Plenty of bands have sparked fashion trends; some have gone so far as to permanently transform the musical landscape; but very few have started a revolution that would defeat an oppressive government. In 1968, inspired by the Doors and the Velvet Underground, eight Czechoslovakian musicians formed the Plastic People of the Universe. The same year, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. Soon after, the Plastic People absorbed an art history student whose radical cultural criticism inspired the group to write original material. In 1970, the band's "professional status" was revoked, their equipment was confiscated, and they were banned from performing or practicing in government-sanctioned spaces (i.e., at all). Young, audacious, and full of joie de vivre, the Plastic People built their own amplifiers and began performing in abandoned buildings where their amalgam of free jazz, psychedelica, and performance art formed the center of a growing artistic underground. When the group was arrested and put on trial in 1976, the artists, students, and intellectuals of the city came to the Plastic People's defense with what would become Charter 77, a manifesto that demanded an end to human rights violations and became the driving force behind 1989's Velvet Revolution. While the band served no more than 18 months in jail, it did not survive the turbulent political climate. In 1983, the members split, but not before thousands of would-be rockers worldwide were convinced -- mostly for the worse -- that music can change the world.
During last year's reunion for the 20th anniversary of Charter 77 in New York's Irving Plaza, the Plastic People were joined by three generations of musicians so inspired -- Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, Gary Lucas of Captain Beefheart, Elliot Sharp, Jim O'Rourke, and John S. Hall. The response was strong enough to prompt the group's first American tour. The Plastic People perform bluesy psychedelic rock in dark, minor (i.e., Eastern European) keys at Bottom of the Hill on Friday, March 12, with Zmrzlina, Primordial Undermind, and Tarentel opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455.
If Oregonians can mariachi and Czechs can rock, then, certainly, Romans can surf. Hailed as Italy's greatest surf band (which suggests there is more than one), Cosmonauti proves the biggest waves do not the best surfer make. The group's debut CD, Just Surf, exhibits a devotion to Link Wray and the Ventures, but the undeniable scent of the Mediterranean creeps into songs like "Maserati," "(Death of a) Matador," and "Mexican Moon," making the Cosmonauti vista more exotic than your standard "California Dreaming." Cosmonauti performs at the Paradise Lounge on Saturday, March 13, with Pollo Del Mar and the Exotic-Hula-Go-Go Queen Katherine opening at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 861-6906.
Paris is a petri dish of musical cultures -- Romany, Moroccan, South African, Italian, Spanish -- spread over a rich cabaret tradition that includes everything from the impish coquetry of BB to the emotive laments of Edith Piaf. The Paris Combo -- one of the finest modern examples of this cross-pollination -- is comprised of three players from Paris' Cabaret Sauvage, plus a trumpet player who used to perform with Arthur H & the Bachibouzouk Band, and a bass player from Madagascar. Belle du Berry -- the combo's elegant vocalist, composer, and accordion player -- swings through a gay tapestry of French chanson music fringed with enough flamenco and Middle Eastern strains to please any lover of Django Reinhardt, and while it may just be the French answer to America's backward glance at swing, I'd take a Gypsy fire-dance over the lindy hop any day of the week. Paris Combo performs at the Justice League on Sunday, March 14, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 440-0409.
-- Silke Tudor