(All photos by Ben. Look for more soon in Frequency’s Flickr pool.)
Igor & Red Elvises have become very familiar faces in Bend over the past few years.
I never saw ‘em, but lots of people have. And the advice I’ve heard from those people was pretty much unanimous. Something along the lines of: “Oh, you have to see them live. They’re so much fun.”
I always believed it. From afar, the Elvises look like fun. They dress in zany animal prints and play funny-looking instruments and call themselves “your favorite band.” Musically, they mine just about every upbeat sound vein from the past five decades, add a hefty dose of humor, and call the charming result Russian “rokenrol.”
Wednesday night gave me an opportunity to see it with my own eyes, as Igor and his crew returned to The Annex. (Quick aside: The Annex is a woefully underused venue in this town. Please, someone start booking more shows there.)
By the time I reached the top of the stairs that lead to the bar, the fun had already begun. When I turned the corner and entered the room, I was faced with 100 or so people doing that “Saturday Night Fever” dance where you point your index finger to the sky, then down to the ground on the opposite side of your body, and repeat ad nauseum.
On stage, frontman Igor Yuzov — decked head to toe in a pink floral-print suit — sang as all those fingers bobbed to the beat: “I am a closet disco dancer / I want to dance all night / I am a closet disco dancer / It makes me feel alright.”
Red Elvises’ songs aren’t necessarily poetry, though they do rhyme. And they’re guaranteed smile-makers, whether the subject is rocket men and women in space, or sad cowboys and drinking with Jesus, or bellydancing and beer. And more beer. And more beer. And more beer.
Did I mention the beer? I did? Good, because Red Elvises excel as a party band. Yuzov is hilarious, playing to the crowd by cupping his hand to his ear Hulk Hogan-style to encourage louder cheering, and bellowing repeatedly into the mic: “Are you having fun!?” He’s the ringleader, a larger-than-life character who commands the room as ably as he commands his guitar. Imagine if Chuck Berry and Mikhail Gorbachev had a kid, and that kid was the Director of Drunken Sweaty Fun on some hedonistic cruise ship. Yuzov is that kid.
He’s also the leader of a pretty snappy band, really. Red Elvises are a hall of nations: According to Yuzov, the bassist (wearing tiger stripes) is an Israeli and the female guitarist (new-wave haircut) is Puerto Rican. Keyboard player and founding member Oleg Bernov (floral print suit) is from Russia, and the two drummers (one female in leopard-print and one male in red sequined suit) are American. (The band played its first set with the gal behind the kit, and its second with the guy. A huge fan told me it’s the guy’s last tour, and the gal is learning songs as she goes along.)
Together, they’re quite good at what they do. If you look past the jokes and the retro dance moves and whatnot, Red Elvises are a tight combo, totally adept at anything they try, be it surf music, ’50s rockabilly, reggae, doo-wop, lounge-pop, or whatever. The first set seemed focused more on traditional songs, while the second featured more instrumentals and individual solos. Near the end of the night — either before or after the conga line, I can’t remember — the band effortlessly shifted from a psychedelic guitar riff into “Hava Nagila.” It was sublime.
You should’ve seen the floor of The Annex. From my vantage point, standing on a chair near the back of the room, it looked like there were a dozen or more separate, different dance parties going on at any given time. One group would start doing the twist during a surf song, and Red Elvises would move on to something else while they continued to twist. And another group would start another dance to the new song. It was a pattern that continued all night and, in fact, became more animated as the crowd became less thirsty.
People were having fun, and I’m not talking about bob-your-head-and-look-cool fun. I’m talking pure, unbridled, I’ve-given-up-control-of-my-body-like-a-flailing-ragdoll fun. Real fun.
We could get caught up in assessing the artistic merits of Red Elvises or their technical abilities, and they’d come out looking OK in either case. But none of that matters much when folks are having that much fun.
It’s a pretty basic concept that lots and lots of bands can’t seem to grasp. Red Elvises have grasped it, and tightly.
Tags: Igor & Red Elvises