America long ago abandoned Levon Levan's brand of entertainment. Looking somewhat like a pudgier, swarthier, Thunderball-era Tom Jones, the Croatian-born entertainer clearly assembled his fashion and vocabulary in the late '70s. He is funny, but when he says things like "It's a funky soul-type groovy stuff," he has a passion bereft of winking affectation that leaves the irony-clad conflicted. Especially when our girlfriends are flinging panties at him.
"My dream, since I was probably 3, 4 years old, was that I really want to make it in the music business," Levan says. "That I want to be a singer." Fifteen years ago, he toured the Eastern European cabaret circuit and was eventually crowned the King of the Balkans. Women swooned, nightclubs roiled and, after some time, America beckoned. In 2001, Levan moved to the States, choosing Portland for its burgeoning music scene.
"I'd been told that the Northwest has probably one of the best musicians in the United States, and it's true," Levan says. "I found the guys I really, really like that are playing for me and giving that magic touch to my music as I always wanted. American touch!" Musically, all Levan's tunes are midtempo, bodice-ripping textbook chuggers, but the bandmembers' more serious pasts (King Black Acid, Poison Idea, Stuntdoubler) enlarge and deepen the '70s-rock boilerplate with surprisingly intricate textures from punk, country, surf, psychedelia and the blues. All the songs are Levan originals, and the lyrics, as you would expect, concern love-specifically the making of love-with the vibrant simplicity of a transplanted romantic: "I don't mean to brag but what I say is true/ I'm a great lover who can make good love to you."
Six months after landing stateside, Levan and his band started playing clubs in Oregon City, Gresham and even a Croatian wedding, but they found that the older crowds didn't know what to do with his simple sentiments and broad gestures. Then they took the show to a downtown rock club, the Ash Street. Midway through the first night, it was fairly obvious the kids understood. Young indie gals, even in Portland, don't spontaneously throw panties for irony's sake. But even if they're laughing at the man passionately thrusting through his set onstage, Levan is receiving plenty in return: More and more, the undergarments are Levon Levan panties from the extensive merchandise line sold at his shows. And then there's the love he feels.
"For me, when I receive a lady's panties on my stage, I think it's most beautiful present I can get."
Levon Levan plays with Attack Ships on Fire, Stuntdoubler and the Stood Ups Thursday, June 30, at the Ash Street, 225 SW Ash St., 226-0430.9 pm. Cover. 21+.