About this time a year ago, the Red Elvises were a band with a huge cult following that I’d never heard of, but when they opened for our local favorites the Rainmakers at the Knuckeheads dive bar, I was most impressed by their sheer goofiness and off-beat humor. I liked them so much, I snagged their best-of double-CD and delved into their oddball repertoire. They played K-heads again back in November, but it was bad timing because it was a weeknight, and I was already committed to seeing Bruce Springsteen at
that weekend, so I
had to pass. The Elvi invaded us once
again six months later last Saturday night, and I was really looking forward to
seeing them headline this time. And I’m
still waiting to see them headline… Sprint
This show was billed as the Red Elvises “with special guests” Hayseed Dixie, another under-the-radar band I was also interested in seeing, so I assumed Hayseed was the opening act. Wrong! In typical backward-ass Knuckleheads fashion, the headliners played FIRST on this night, and I was most disappointed. The Elvises, led by singer/guitarist Igor Yuzov, got off to a hot start, opening with “Drinking With Jesus” and playing some biggies of theirs like “I Wanna See You Bellydance” and “Strip Joint Is Closed” and “Love Rocket”, which features the classic double-entendre line, “We’re gonna rock this joint/We’re gonna roll this joint/We’re gonna smoke this joint…until we sound like Pink Floyd.” Then, just six songs or so into the set, Igor announces they were going to take a short break. WTF? At first, I thought maybe this meant they were playing the whole night because the Hayseeds didn’t make it or something, but I was wrong.
The set resumed with some newer stuff and a few more favorites like “Closet Disco Dancer” and included an interesting drum solo featuring all five members of the band on the SAME drum kit. The Red Elvises personnel seems to be ever-changing (the above photo is not current), and it’s a unique line-up they have now—it’s both bi-racial and co-ed with three white guys (two from
) and two black women. Oleg Bernov was back with his ever-present
day-glo orange balalaika bass guitar, which is so big it needs a kick-stand to
hold it up while he plays.
Multi-instrumentalist Sarah Johnson played keyboards, sax and flute at
one end of the stage, while Dregas Smith manned (womanned?) another keyboard at
the other end and the drummer’s name is Garrett Morris, but you wouldn’t
recognize him from his “SNL” days—he’s white and in his 30s now. By and large, it was a good, energetic set
the Elvises put on, but too damn short—only about an hour and ten minutes, not
counting the intermission. They played a far better set last year opening for the Rainmakers. Even worse,
this was the first time I’ve ever seen the headline act have to tear down their
own equipment following their set. Russia
I’ve mentioned my disdain for Knuckleheads before, but it bears repeating. It’s a dumpy indoor/outdoor dive bar that looks like a FEMA project that was pieced together with spare parts, with an outdoor stage that appears to be an old loading dock from who knows when, and it’s located in a downright dismal part of Kansas City’s east bottoms area, with “bottom” being the operative word. Oh, and it sits practically on top of a live railroad line that is constantly in use, with train whistles blaring at any given moment. In one of the men’s restrooms, instead of a toilet, they have you pissing into a trough-like sink full of ice! How they’re able to attract nationally-known acts like Leon Russell and Kenny Wayne Shepherd to play there is beyond me. I don’t mean to sound snobbish, and I’m not expecting the place to be the Taj Mahal or anything, but come on, we can do better than this! The lone saving grace of the place is the cheap beer, but I was on the wagon that night anyway, so I didn’t have a particularly good time.
Once the Elvises packed up their gear, it should’ve been a quick changeover to Hayseed Dixie, but it wasn’t. There was an awkward period of about 15 minutes with the Hayseeds standing on stage with their instruments trying to get direct boxes (the sound gizmos) to work. For the uninitiated, HD is a group of excellent
musicians who do cover versions of mostly hard Rock songs from the likes of
Kiss, AC/DC and Motorhead. Once they did
get going, they still had sound issues for the first couple songs, especially
banjo player Don Wayne Reno, but once that was corrected, they reeled off
several AC/DC cuts, including “Hells Bells”, "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and “You Shook Me All Night Long”
and even the more obscure “Let’s Get It Up”, as well as Motorhead’s “Ace Of
Spades”, which I’m sure would’ve made our friend Lemmy proud. Even The Cars’ “Best Friend’s Girl” and Alice
Cooper’s “Poison” got the Bluegrass treatment, and although this style of music
is hardly my cup of tea, it’s fun to hear popular songs re-worked with
different instrumentation, to the point where you have to play “Name That Tune”
sometimes to figure out which song it is.
The highlight of the set for me was their raucous rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which they deemed “the greatest killin’ song of all-time”. A little while later as the band played, some Hell’s Angel outside the venue drove by on his overly-loud fart-machine chopper bike and intentionally drowned out the band, prompting mandolin player Dale Reno to shout into his mic, “That guy has a little penis!” Unfortunately, after about an hour I started getting bored with Hayseed. First off, they aren’t much to look at—they totally live up to their name, appearance-wise. I also quickly got burned-out on lead singer John Wheeler’s endless yammering between songs all about the same subject, drinking, which is pretty redundant in a bar/nightclub—it’s like someone constantly yapping about being naked in a nudist colony. And don’t get me wrong, they’re all great musicians for the genre they play, but the stuff does all kinda sound the same after a while and I’ve found that Hayseed Dixie is best taken in smaller doses. They hadn’t even played any Kiss songs yet, but I’d had enough and left midway through their set because it was about to storm anyhow. This would’ve been a much better show for me if the roles had been reversed and the Red Elvi played a full set.