Next time some self-righteous indie rocker starts bending your ear about "DIY," take a deep, patient breath and think of Boris Grebenshikov.
Grebenshikov and his band Aquarium learned a few things about doing it themselves in the late '70s and early '80s. In their native Soviet Union, the government was actively, obnoxiously, idiotically hostile to rock music and independent culture in general. Bureaucrats and cops be damned, however, a Soviet rock underground thrived. Fans passed 10th-generation tapes hand to hand, staged secretive shows and turned salvaged X-ray plates into makeshift LPs. Aquarium ruled this scrappy counterculture. The band's free-flowing folk-rock-jazz-psychedelia awoke fans starved for new sounds, and Grebenshikov's mystical lyrics made him a cult hero. Not that the musicians were able to quit their menial day jobs, of course.
"It was total crap," says Grebenshikov now of the bad old days. "But it was a good education. We didn't have a music industry at all, except for the official government record company, Melodiya. And we had no influence at all there--in fact, we were their sworn enemies. And so we had to invent everything ourselves. For the first 15 years of the band's existence, the money question simply did not exist. So you learn the most important lesson of all, that money and music are two different universes."
When I talk to BG (as his still-legion fans call Grebenshikov), he's on the road, somewhere between Las Vegas and San Diego. More than a decade after the USSR limped into history, Aquarium has matured into a Slavic version of classic rock godhood. Back home, the band plays festivals; in the States, it packs clubs with nostalgic Russian émigrés willing to pay good money. Aquarium visits Portland for the first time this week, hoping to discover that several hundred rock fans lurk among the city's large, diverse post-Soviet population.
Even though the years have wrought a sea change in his status, Grebenshikov says the rebel lessons of bygone days still have their uses.
"Now if things are going well, we get money, and that gives us the freedom to do whatever we want," he says. "If things don't go well, we go back to our old tricks. So to have both capitalism and the old Soviet survival strategies, well, it works out in the end." Zach Dundas
Aquarium plays Friday, June 21, at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. MiruMir also appears. 9 pm. $15 advance, $25 door.
Return of the Brat
A decade ago, during what is now fondly remembered as Riot Grrrl Summer, the newly formed Bratmobile played girl music at a time when the tendency among female punk bands was to sound just like their male counterparts. They helped rewrite the rules of punk rock and, like many of punk's truly revolutionary bands, broke up within two years.
Flash forward to the present day. "What do you do," asks B-Mob singer Allison Wolfe, "when Sleater-Kinney is the only good band" left to carry the Riot Grrrl banner? Her answer: "We reformed Bratmobile."
Though just 10 years old during Riot Grrrl Summer, I was a senior member of the audience at the reformed B-Mob's show last Thursday at the Meow Meow. I wondered if the kids in the audience, mostly high-school girls and college freshlings, had ever heard the first incarnation of the band and their unique one-part-rhythm, one-part-melody, one-part-sass sound.
The band members themselves may look a decade older, but they rock like it's '92. Molly Neuman attacks the drums like the fate of the world depends on it, and Erin Smith is the picture of guitar-player cool, swinging her bangs from side to side as if to say, "I'm not paying attention to you."
Frontwoman Wolfe, punk-rock cheerleader extraordinaire, is a spectacle and makes you forget you're hearing music.
Since its reunion, many have criticized the band's addition of keyboards, bass and--gasp--chords (previously Smith only ever played one string at a time). However, as unfortunately full as the new records sound, their live show retains Olympia's minimalist aesthetic. Neuman is still a one-woman rhythm section, Smith still carries the melody with one finger, and Wolfe still brings the sass. Like KRS-One, she also brings knowledge--not that the kids haven't done their homework. Five songs into their set, someone yelled, "Play some old stuff," and the band broke into "Panic," from their '92 Kill Rock Stars debut LP, Pottymouth. Then everybody started dancing. Godfre Leung
MUSIC AND NIGHTLIFE NEWS
HISS and VINEGAR
"SUPERHERO ACTION SHOW" NO LONGER ON THE ROPES
Portland Organic Wrestling is dead. Long live Superhero Action Show!
Portland's booming violence-as-entertainment industry will rage into the foreseeable future after POW, the monthly pro-grappling sendup at Satyricon, broke the State's submission hold. Hiss & Vinegar's legion of fans will recall that Oregon Boxing and Wrestling Commissioner Jim Cassidy threatened to leg-lock POW, claiming the beer-soaked parody amounted to 'rassling without the necessary gub'mint permits. POW, under the direction of fiendish "anti-promoter" Vinnie Cleanhands, claimed its goonish power-hours are nothing more than theater and are thus outside commission control.
So when Cassidy dropped in on POW's June 6 show with a note-scribbling legal eagle in tow, confrontation seemed imminent. However, long before Cassidy himself took the stage to receive a good-natured flogging at the hands of ex-POW champ Harvey Hardcock, it was clear that POW would never have to go legit.
What convinced Cassidy that POW (now renamed the Superhero Action Show) posed no threat to Vince McMahon? The scantily clad, mohawked ref? The cake flying through the air? Clown makeup? Whatever the reason, word is that the commish had a spanking good time. Look for the rechristened artistry formerly known as POW back at the 'Con on July 4.
SNAKE & WEASEL: ON THE ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST?
Property managers recently called out the exterminators on Southeast's slither/slink duet, the ever-embattled Snake & Weasel. On May 24, the folk-, jam- and rock-friendly bar (1720 SE 12th Ave., 232-8338) received 30 days' notice to vacate from landlords ESP. No reason was given, and prop-managers' representatives offered no comment on future plans for the cozy corner of Ladd's Addition. The club is asking nicely for more time and also hopes to transition into a new, larger space soon. S&W manager Dan Coleman hopes for very little downtime, but owner David Lederfine says, more pragmatically, that there may be a four- to six-month Weasel-free window.
Is anyone else starting to feel the urge to sock Ozzy in the jaw? And who else thinks it's almost time for the White Stripes to come up with a new gimmick?
Blackalicious canceled its scheduled Portland appearance last week, the Bay Area hip-hop duo's second such scrub in a month; seems lyricist Gift of Gab has recently suffered diabetes complications. Tickets for the spiked show won't be honored at the makeup date, but refunds are available...Omaha emo band Cursive had to back out of a tour with Japanese band Eastern Youth after lead singer Tim Kasher suffered a collapsed lung (?!?) during the bands' Portland show at Meow Meow on June 10.
TAPE OP STAGES TECH-HEAD SUMMIT
There's nothing especially glamorous about vintage eight-track gear, nerdy studio wizards or Sacramento. But Larry Crane, founder of home-recording magazine Tape Op and Portland's Jackpot Studios, lured some of America's finest underground knob-twisters to California's capital at the beginning of June for the first annual Tape Op conference. Tony Visconti, Bob Weston, Jack Endino and Steve Albini shared podium space with Portlanders Luther Russell and Jeff Saltzman. Pabst Blue Ribbon sponsored the event, and the reunion of Crane's '80s garage band drew a bigger crowd at the festival's close than J. Mascis' solo coffeehouse set.
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