Remember the disaster drills of the ’70s and ’80s? You know, those non-specific air raid sirens that sent schoolchildren ducking like lunatics under their desks as if wood-patterned Formica and chip board formed some sort of miracle shield against radioactive fallout? Perhaps it was my geographical proximity to Three Mile Island that made these exercises routine, but the sheer, rote stupidity of this activity made them one of my most vivid memories of the Cold War.
I also remember wondering if thousands and thousands of miles away, under a similarly ill-constructed form of shelter, some smart-ass Russian kid was thinking the same thing I was: “Yeah, yeah, lady. Don’t get your panties in a wad. I’m under the desk now, happy? My illusion is complete. Never felt safer in my life. Go Team!” I think I can say with total confidence that there were not just a few like minded individuals, but a legion, and Igor Yuzov, Zhenya Rock, and Oleg Bernov — the Red Elvises — were undoubtedly among them.
The Red Elvises are not a flagrant cover or tribute band, though they formed around the same time as joke-genre masters ElVez, Dread Zeppelin, Black Velvet Flag, and the like. But they have managed to slightly surpass such one-trick pony gimmickry, inventing a hybridized sound that accesses both their ethnic Russian roots and American ’50s and ’60s surf and pop influences along the way.
Siberian surf-a-billy, if you will.
Much of the band’s charm is derived from tapping obvious cultural idiosyncrasies with a cultivated naïveté; songs sung in English have a Boris & Natasha, cartoon-like quality to them, dripping with accents so syrupy thick, you can’t help but giggle. Rokenrol, their tenth album to date, is a mixed bag of welcome silliness, based more on energy than musical ambition, and aimed at getting people up and on the dance floor, nothing more.
It is the Red Elvises’ onstage exuberance that keeps them on the road almost 200 days a year since their formation in Venice Beach in 1996. Their live performances, peppered with frequent costume changes, outlandishly shaped instruments, and constant gyration (after all, you can’t reference Elvis and not sling a little pelvis, too) have achieved a definite mock King-like Vegas quality. This band is fun, not farcical; silly, not sarcastic; and like most things born on the streets of Venice Beach, purely escapist. Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s good to know that someone is still humping the American Dream.