Jack told us that the Red Elvises were the funnest of all the bands that he had ever seen. This is saying something. Not just because you can't really name a band that Jack didn't see in concert way back when, but because his job as the sound guy at a downtown Raleigh music and beer hall means that he sees bands most every night of the week. As the significant other of a bass player, I've seen a lot of bands. Josh has seen many more than I have. I can't even imagine the sheer amount of live music that Jack has taken in. Based on my own sampling, I bet a lot of it was crappy.
But Jack said we had to come Thursday night, because these guys were awesome. It seemed like the Red Elvises always had a poster up in the bar. Whoever they were, they were apparently making a living playing music. Before I fell in love with a bass player, I had no idea how large the term "success" was in terms of the music business. I thought there was either playing stadiums and talking about your drug problem on Behind the Music, or there was keeping your day job. Making all the money or making none of it. But of course there is a whole range of levels in between. For one thing, there is losing money. But there is also never making it anywhere near a stadium, but somehow still making it. Quitting their day job to make about what they made at what was probably a low-wage gig. But that is success, to be a professional musician, and for the people who are really in it for the joy of playing music, it may be enough. I am happy for them.
Based on the fact that the Red Elvises seem to be making it around to Raleigh every couple of months, when they are based out of California, I conclude that they are making it. They also have professional-looking merchandise, nice instruments, and a swank touring minibus. It even has their band name on it, while Josh's band's van is emblazoned with the name of the church they bought it from.
The Red Elvises play simple, crowd-friendly pop songs in a mash of styles. There are some clever verses, and a catchy sing-along chorus. By the time the chorus comes back around, anyone who was even halfway listening can sing along, too. The musical influence is all over the place - reggae, punk, surf rock, country-western, soul, polka - and it always has just a dash of something...Russian. Because the Red Elvises are here from Russia with love. The three-string bass was even shaped like a balalaika.
It was all just so infectious. The music seemed to enter in through your ears and then take up residence in various parts of the body that would then begin to move. Your head bopped, your hips wiggled, your whole body bounced on the balls of your feet. I am not a good dancer, but I make up for it in enthusiasm. I decided a while back it was more fun to dance badly than to not dance for fear of doing it badly. But even if you had not made that leap, I think the Red Elvises would push you right over. You can't not dance. So we danced. We danced like Uma Thurman did in Pulp Fiction, though only during the song called "Dance Like Uma Thurman." Other times we did the John Travolta disco point or made an attempt at that squat dancing thing the Russians do or just flailed our arms and legs like idiots because it was fun. It was a sweaty show.
At one point, Igor told us that he was about to play a polka song. He strapped on an accordian, and they got down as only polksters can. I bounced to the front - because I couldn't move without bouncing with this music going on - to take a picture of the accordian action. Jack interpreted my sudden relocation to the front as an indication that I was ready to polka with my bad self. He asked Josh for permission to dance the polka with me. Having gotten permission, Jack asked if I knew how to polka. I was never so sad to answer "no" in all my life. The lesson here is that we should all learn to polka, because you never know when such a skill will come in handy.
They had a great drum solo, too. Drum solos are hard to do. Even if you have a great drummer, audience members can sort of lose interest in it because it's hard to dance to. But when the Red Elvises have a drum solo, they don't mean the drummer is solo, they mean the drums are. All four of the non-drummers pulled out their own set of drum sticks and took up residence next to the drum kit. And they all played the drums.
After only a few songs in the second half of the set, Igor said they were going to play just one more. Well. He asked us if we would like to hear just one more. We, being mere dancing putty in the palm of his sweaty Ukrainian hand, answered "ONE MORE!"
They played about five more songs, each time asking if we would like them to play one more. Finally, they said goodnight and started packing up. Jack started up a chant of "ONE MORE!" and we only had to yell for another thirty seconds or so before Igor responded, oh so casually, "One more?"
"Okay, we do one more." And they did. One more bouncing, head bopping, sweaty, arm-flailing, vaguely Russian song. I am happy that these transplanted musicians are making it, because as far as I'm concerned, they are providing a valuable service. The only question I had at the end of the evening was whether they played weddings.
For your pleasure, but this does not do them justice. They are this weird in person, but the live show is infinite fun.