Bulletproof Stockings: These rocker chicks bring down the house

Bulletproof StockingsPhoto by Shervin Lainez
Bulletproof Stockings
Photo by Shervin Lainez

Ladies night at Sixth and I, and the alt-rocker chicks of Bulletproof Stockings consciously own their voices. The band’s name refers to the thick tights Orthodox women and girls wear no matter the weather to maintain their modesty.

“Yes, we’re chasidic,” drummer Dalia Shusterman proclaimed. “And we’re going to own the joke” of the band’s name.

The Crown Heights, N.Y.-based band also owned the house on Dec. 8, bringing its hard rock sound to the lower community hall of the downtown synagogue and concert space. It was the third night of Chanukah and the women-only crowd of about 50 — some in thick tights, head coverings and modest clothing, others in miniskirts, their hair flowing free — bobbed along to drummer Shusterman’s hard-driving rhythms. Lead singer Perl Wolf — her voice variously sultry, bluesy and sweet — offered up her poetic lyrics, which sometimes were sensual, even downright sexy, for these mostly buttoned-up rockers, many hearing Bulletproof Stockings for the first time.

It took Wolf plenty of cajoling to get some of the women dancing, and only part of the crowd took to the dance floor. The rest smiled and nodded from their seats. With no old-fashioned simcha tunes, the concert was a wholly modern rock experience. Heavy rock, power ballads, a sprinkling of blues and a touch of country filled out the evening.


Clad in modest below-the-knee skirts, long-sleeved, cleavage-covering tops and dresses, and, yes, those bullet-proof opaque stockings, they looked more like Hebrew school teachers than hard rockers, but they laid it down like pros.

On their first tour, they plugged their inaugural full-length release Homeland Call Stomp — a heady but elemental collection of poetic but Jewish-inspired music that variously channels the likes of Adele, Alanis Morissette, and Miranda Lambert, along with less well-known art rockers.

Founded in 2011, when former Potomac resident Shusterman returned to the rock-and-roll life of her youth after meeting up with Wolf, Bulletproof Stockings has gained notoriety for its out-of-the-ordinary members: sheitel-wearing Orthodox women who play power rock with abandon.

“It’s not that women aren’t allowed to sing in public,” Shusterman pointed out. “The prohibition is on men: they can’t hear a woman’s voice.” Self-taught as a drummer, Shusterman described her discovery of the drums like a divine intervention during a concert she attended as a high schooler. Hooked, soon Shusterman, who grew up in a modern Orthodox household in Potomac and attended the French International School, was traveling the country, busking on street corners. Then, her hair various shades of blue and purple, she joined psychedelic rockers Hopewell gigging big cities and small towns.

Finding her way back to Orthodoxy was another prophetic accident. But it set her on the path to Bulletproof Stockings, meeting her late husband and becoming a chasidic Jew. These days, she says: “We’re throwing a party for women only; it’s up to men not to listen. … I wanted to bring the mystery of my [Jewish] world into the rock world.” And vice versa.

Rock and roll typically deals in blatant terms with sex, drugs, broken hearts and unrequited love. The songs, penned and sung by Wolf, with backup vocals by Shusterman, joined by Elisheva Maister on cello and Dana Pestun on violin, wrestle with contemporary problems relevant beyond Orthodoxy: taking life one day at a time, leaving stress behind, and losing oneself in the challenges of living. With insinuations of Jewish influences — “Castaway” sings about the Biblical Jonah being cast into the sea, other songs reveal feelings of seeking spirituality, like “Easy Pray” or “Mind Clear.” Just one — “My Soul Thirsts for You,” Psalm 63 — features Hebrew lyrics and a nigunim, or wordless melodies. Wolf’s songs are like a modern-day Songs of Songs; with allusions to godliness and spirituality, they could be heard as sensual love songs. There’s nothing radical in her double meanings. Why shouldn’t women revel in the embodiment of both their spirituality and sexuality? Bulletproof Stockings provides them with that space.

Journalist Andrea Jennetta, who lives on Capitol Hill, came out of curiosity and admitted, “It never occurred to me that chasidic women could form a rock band and go on tour. But here they are, and now we want more.” Her friend Erica Gloger, a lawyer from Dupont Circle added, “I’ve been in women-only spaces, but they have been predominantly lesbian or queer spaces. It’s wonderful to see women of all sexualities can come together and enjoy that space without any stigma.”

Aviva Fisher, a home educator from Kemp Mill, brought her 14-year-old daughter Chaya, an aspiring drummer. “I love the fact that that they’re singing original lyrics,” said the older Fisher. “It just takes Jewish music to a whole new level.” For Chaya, the concert was a revelation. Her drum instructor had told her she had to wear pants because skirts would interfere with her playing. Seeing a pro like Shusterman provided confirmation that an Orthodox woman could indeed drum in a skirt.

Chaya Fisher and the rest of the women that evening, whether in modest skirts or ripped jeans, wigs or not, learned that chasidic women can seriously rock.

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