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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Post-Post-Kafka Soviet Quintet in California Debut

What is there to say about a Soviet band fronted by a guy who looks like Al Bundy, mugs like Samuel Beckett’s crotchety Krapp and dances like Pee-wee Herman with Angst in his pants? A band with music that is a cross of old King Crimson and newer Talking Heads with Residents-like art consciousness? A band with post-post-Kafka lyrics delivered, in Russian, with dramatic weight?

Well . . . competent and funny were among the comments overheard at intermission of Zvuki Mu’s California debut on Sunday at the Wadsworth Theater. Different is another term that comes to mind in the wake of all the mundane nouveau-capitaliste acts from Eastern Europe that have preceded this curious quintet to our shores.

The problem Sunday was that it was hard to determine the point of it all. Even with translations of lyrics (included with the band’s 1989 Brian Eno-produced album), the message boils down to just “cultural repression makes us angry and weird.”

Not helping much were the attendance (only 500 people in the 1,450-capacity theater), and the premiere of a dimly lit, tape-backed performance piece by singer Peter Mamanov (suspended marionette-like from wires) and guitarist Lyosha Bortnichuk (perched in a Day-Glo-colored square above the stage). Art for art’s sake? Or another case of Russians-in-the-West for Russians-in-the-West’s sake?

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