Soviet Rocker More Richard Marx Than Karl Marx

Author: Steve Hochman
Los Angeles Times
August 25, 1989

A fair amount of Russian was spoken Monday at the Roxy, but more in the audience than on the stage, where Soviet rocker Boris Grebenshikov made his Los Angeles debut, singing and speaking mostly in English. He even spoke French before he spoke Russian.

Grebenshikov – once the top underground Russian rock rebel – seemed more than willing to play the capitalist rock game, and the show was more Richard Marx than Karl Marx.

With cropped hair and a beard, Grebenshikov cut a fairly severe, Bowie-esque figure, a stern, no-nonsense performer who accented the enigma-wrapped-in-a-riddle subtleties contained on his recent debut album "Radio Silence." But his band (four Americans plus bassist Sasha Titov, a former cohort of Grebenshikov in the Moscow group Aquarium) just steam-rolled along with standard-issue Western rock.

Early in the show, though, Grebenshikov changed the tone, making a bit like Groucho Marx. He introduced his solo performance of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" as "a light, humorous song about the connection between women and death" (it was funny when he said it).

Later he poked fun at the Western fascination with all things Russian by introducing a song as a traditional "Islamic acid house speed metal" tune from 16th Century Russia (the song turned out to be a boisterous ska romp sung in Russian). And as he loosened up, so did the band, giving the remainder of the 80-minute show a personable, though hardly revolutionary, feel.

Still, insights into the contemporary Soviet psyche were hard to come by: The only serious reference to Russia came as Boris thanked Columbia for freeing him from his homeland’s artistic repression. On the other hand, should we hope for this individual artist to serve as a spokesman for a vast, variety-filled society any more than we would want Jon Bon Jovi to represent all Americans to Muscovites

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