From Russian With Rock Charisma

Author: Barbara Jaeger
Source: The Record
Date: August 10, 1989

There are a few rock performers who can command attention with the simplest of gestures, a flick of the hand, a nod of the head, a fleeting smile. Sting has that ability. So does David Bowie. Now, add Boris Grebenshikov to the list of those who can dispense with the flashy, overblown theatrics and communicate solely through their music.

Grebenshikov, the first rock artist from the Soviet Union to sign an American recording contract, was at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village Tuesday night for two shows. If there were any people in the club who thought the buzz surrounding Grebenshikov was merely hype, their minds surely were changed by his mesmerizing performance.

Even Sting, who arrived at the early show several songs into the set, sat transfixed, his toe tapping to the beat.

Grebenshikov, who owes his recent elevation to rock stardom in his homeland to perestroika and his burgeoning American career to glasnost performed much of his show in English. But even when he switched to Russian, as he did for several songs, it was easy to decipher the mood of the music because of his delivery: fervent and bold when the rocking beat demanded, quiet and restrained when the tempo changed for his folklike ballads.

The 35-year-old singer-songwriter’s repertoire was drawn primarily from his first American album, "Radio Silence." But while a reserved air pervades the album, the songs, in concert, took on a more dynamic, dramatic edge. Part of that could be explained by the outstanding band supporting Grebenshikov on his whirlwind five-week cross-country tour of the United States.

Bassist Sasha Titov from Grebenshikov’s Russian band, Aquarium, solidly anchored the rhythm section along with Israeli drummer Tal "Tao" Bergman. Percussionist par excellence Steve Scales, who has performed with the Talking Heads, provided a sizzling touch to the uptempo tunes, and, in tandem with keyboard player Delmar Brown (formerly of Sting’s band), added atmosphere to such lovely songs as "The Wind" and "Death of King Arthur."

Brown also responded with some piercing vocals that proved the perfect counterpoint to Grebenshikov’s mid-range tenor on "That Voice Again" and "Real Slow Today." Completing the lineup was guitarist David Zingg. Taking the spotlight several times, he provided the guitar heat for "The Time," "The Postcard," and the title track of the album, which was released as Grebenshikov’s first American single.

It was, however, the blond, blue-eyed Leningrad native who, with his poetry in musical motion, demanded that all eyes be turned to him. Closing his eyes and wrapping his hands around the microphone stand, he radiated emotion.

And while Grebenshikov most often appeared intense and pensive, he proved to have a dry sense of humor. In introducing members of the band all of various races and nationalities, he said all were from the Soviet Union except Titov. Titov, he said, was from Jamaica.

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