Have you ever stopped for a second and thought about the actual lyrics to some of the popular songs today: like “Get Low” by Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz, and even “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” by Khia? If you don’t know of these songs already, make sure your headphones are definitely plugged in before you try listening to them. But what if you took it a step further? Enter Dan Henig, the singer and songwriter who initially gained popularity by singing some of the most distorted and raunchy songs of all time, performing crisp and pure acoustic covers of these songs so that every uncensored syllable could be fully heard and understood in unsuspecting places. It is truly an experience unlike anything else you will ever have listened to: a young, Jewish man from Michigan quoting some of the raciest stuff in popular media right now.
Henig is so much more than just a guitar-playing metaphor for the current messages behind popular songs, which was made clear through the concert of sorts that he held for the general student body on Oct. 12. The concert was more of a causal stand-up show in a small club setting. One of the highlights of the night that really demonstrates the atmosphere of the event was the way Henig conversed with different members of the audience in between songs, asking for suggestions on the next song.
His willingness to play songs for the audience that he hadn’t prepared for or even released yet was remarkable—even when his dad paid him an untimely call while in between songs, the audience was able to convince him to answer it. He put the call on speaker for everyone to listen to while he was still on stage.
Before each song, Henig would call out different members of the audience and talk to them for a bit before asking them what kind of song they would like to hear first.
Funnily enough, the person he ended up talking with and getting to know most was in fact myself. By the end of the night, Henig and I had had a couple conversations about how our days were going, what we wanted to do with our lives in the future and what it means to be Jewish. I even had my name dropped into his cover of “Get Low” in a part that for the sake of allowing this article to be published I cannot explicitly explain (if you know the song, it was used in the line right after “to the window, to the wall” in the chorus).
The best parts of the night were the occasions when Henig performed his original songs, which showcased just how great of a range of styles he could get out of an acoustic guitar, a microphone and a looping program he controlled with his feet. Hitting many different genres of music, he started with an original Jewish country song called “Bar Mitzvah Missing You,” with the stand out line “you’re hotter than Matza-ball soup.” Changing gears, he also sang a slow, sad love song about military relationships and the bravery it takes to have a significant other on active duty. Another song involved a rapping section in a cappella.
One of the most impressive parts of Henig’s repertoire came in when he started to push the limits of what can be played on an acoustic guitar.
For a handful of songs, he would set aside a time to record himself playing or beatboxing into the mic for a stanza or two and then setting that recording on a loop to play in the background while he continued on with the song. This meant that every time through the chorus and the subsequent verse there would be more going on in the song, to the point where he could have started the song off with just his voice and guitar and ended with what sounded like a full band backing him up. This was used best during one of his original songs towards the end that he played even though he hadn’t released the song yet. The song “F*** That” was an invigorating anthem of a song that involved Henig even slapping his guitar to make a solid drum beat to backup the higher vocals and rock chords played on his guitar.
Henig’s music is available online in any of the usual places you can find music, although some of the songs he performed in this event, in my opinion some of the best ones, are not fully released yet and have to be heard in person when you experience his stand-up style consort for yourself.
Background image courtesy of Muhlenberg College Public Relations.