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Moscow Beat

Collude with the Red Elvises

The Red Elvises performing at The Hut in Tucson, Arizona, May 19, 2010. Left to right: Elena Shemankova, Kyle. Photo credit: Rick Vaughn

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Igor Yuzov was born in Germany but spent his formative years in Odessa, in what's now Ukraine but was, at that time, the Soviet Union. His fondness for Beatles and Rolling Stones albums presented a challenge. In those days, he explains, "It was almost like selling drugs. It was part of Western culture and the Soviet government didn't like it. They considered it a crime, so people would exchange it undercover. You'd go to some special places where people would trade and sell Western records. Usually in my city it was in the park." He remembers dashing between trees and cars with his newfound contraband. "Maybe in Odessa," he says, "it was a little bit easier because it's a port town, so lots of sailors would bring records." Still, "it was a major investment. If you had 10, 20 (albums), you were in a great position."

Yuzov knew what we might call surf rock, but mostly through the Soviet-era filter of traditional, instrumental music. Some traditional bands of the 1970s and '80s covered tunes by The Shadows or The Ventures. "We started having those bands from the early '60s," Yuzov says. When he emigrated to the U.S., he helped found a vocal band called Limpopo. When Americans heard that, they called it klezmer, a term he'd never heard despite Odessa's populous Jewish community. To him, "that music was just called Odessa music ... with lots of humor, and mostly it's kind of like criminal music, like stories of the guys coming from jail or some gangs fighting each other." Much to his surprise, Limpopo won an international episode of Star Search, applying the $5,000 prize to buy a tour van.

It was about that time, Yuzov says, that Elvis Presley appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to play rock-and-roll music. The result was the party-blasting Red Elvises, who attracted huge crowds on Los Angeles' Third Street Promenade. That surf-dance band's music energized the 1998 film Six-String Samurai, a minor hit of the indie-cinema renaissance. After 13 studio albums, a greatest-hits package and two live sets, the Red Elvises are still going strong two decades later. Yuzov played with Russian idols at the massive benefit concert Live 8. Now he brings the Moscow beat to Jazzbones, giving us an opportunity to say "do svidaniya" to the best kind of party loyalist.

RED ELVISES, 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 24, Jazzbones, 2803 6th Ave., Tacoma, $12-$15, 253.396.9169

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