House of Tudor

For Oleg Bernov, Igor Yuzov, and Zhenya Kolykhanov -- better known as the Red Elvises -- the sweltering croon and swiveling hips of The King could do nothing to penetrate the bitter cold of Siberian winters. They were born and raised in Russia, and for them Elvis Presley was just some sweaty fat fuck who sang sappy pop songs for blue-haired biddies. But all that changed once the lads arrived in Los Angeles' neon wilderness in 1996.

Suddenly, Elvis made perfect sense -- the sequined suits, the platform shoes, the sideburns. Not only did the wee Russkies get Elvis, they were virtually transmogrified by his omnipresence. Sure, they tried to stay true to their cultural heritage, going so far as to join an ethnic Russian dance band. But the spirit of The King was too strong: Gold lame tux jackets and Elvis ties began creeping into their wardrobes as their blood slowly thawed to the rhythm of American rock music. And so the Red Elvises were born.

The rest of the story reads like a wacky, unpredictable sitcom pilot: After much good-natured cajoling, the boys don their snazziest threads and bop down to Venice Beach to fool around with their instruments, and -- would you believe it -- they're a smash hit. Bigger than El Vez even, and before you can say blini, they're appearing in Kit Kat commercials and Playboy, and showing up on MTV, Access Hollywood, and Entertainment TV. VH1 produces a documentary about them, and two guest appearances on Melrose Place confirm that they have indeed arrived. Despite the bright lights and accolades, the boys never lose their doltish Siberian charm, referring to their sweethearts in song as "chocolate cake" and "well-done steak." Reverent covers of "Blue Moon" and "Love Me Tender" are interspersed with goofy "Siberian surf-abilly" originals like "El Nino" and "Sad Cowboy Song."

Bernov plays a clownish instrument called a balalaika bass -- bright red, triangular, and bigger than three of him. With his unmistakable lip curl, Yuzov leaps onto tabletops, performs synchronized leg kicks, and seduces girls from the stage while their muscle-bound boyfriends look on in bewilderment. It's the American Dream realized and, sentimentality aside, party bands don't get much better. The Red Elvises perform at the Great American Music Hall on Thursday, Nov. 12, with Frenchy and Shitty Shitty Band Band opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 885-0750.

The first two solo releases by Ex-Dinosaur Jr. bassist Mike Johnson have been likened to work by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, and Lee Hazelwood -- all of whom Johnson greatly admires and occasionally covers -- but the comparisons were decidedly premature. His lush baritone aside, Johnson was somewhat gangly in 1995; no matter how substantial his songwriting skills, he couldn't manage the elegant anguish of the balladeers he admired. But three years, an agonizing divorce from Juned bassist Leslie Hardy, and countless cases of cigarettes and whiskey have helped. Johnson's voice might still be a bit too velvety to sound properly seasoned, but on I Feel Alright, the awkward affectations (à la Tindersticks) have been carved out by hard living. "I Don't Love You," a gorgeous duet with Tiffany Anders, is worthy of the pantheon of modern mourning hymns; "A Minor Aversion," "Not Over Yet," and "I've Got to Have You" settle in nicely with covers of Cohen's "Leaving Greensleeves," Hazelwood's "The Performer," and Arthur Lee's "A Message to Pretty." Johnson may not be a Cohen yet, but a few more heartbreaks should send him on his way. He contributed to former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan's latest record, Scraps at Midnight, and he'll support Lanegan at the Noe Valley Ministry on Saturday, Nov. 14, with Pete Krebs opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 282-2317.

Proponents of San Francisco strangeness are forever indebted to laughingsquid.com and The Number for faithfully, tirelessly, and relentlessly discovering weirdness -- and directing the rest of us to it. But their creators have done it with absolutely no benefit to themselves (a personal thank you to the main brain alphasquid), so now that the phone bills are beginning to pile up, it's the obligation of all the wacked-out artists and deranged night crawlers who have benefited from alphasquid's diligence to offer support and cash. For those who have never made use of these night life lifelines, the Analog Cafe is a perfect way to instantly submerge yourself in underground culture. You can get dressed with the Space Cowgirls, pimp out performance artist Michael Peppe, dance on the Cyberbuss, fight with the Seemen robots, get singed by a flame-throwing V8-engine margarita blender, fall over during the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence's Sock Show, be brainwashed by Werepad projections, drink with highly trained libation purveyors Kaga Todd and Big Rig Industries, drool on artcars, and boogie down to some very strange sounds. Or you can just sit and chat amiably with all the very nice, wholesome people an event of this sort is likely to draw. Your choice. If you don't know what The Number is, the only way you'll ever get it is by attending the Analog Cafe at Cyclone Warehouse, 1842 Illinois, on Saturday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5-10; call 861-1666.

-- Silke Tudor

 
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