By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Standing on the steppes
There are words that are inherently silly simply because of the rhythm of their syllables. Limpopo is a pretty good candidate for one of them. Although familiar to most in a more equatorial setting--the name of the river in Africa where the Elephant's Child got his trunk in Just So Stories, described by Rudyard Kipling as "great, gray-green, greasy"--the Limpopo that refers to a hyperkinetic collection of costumed Russian circus performers/absurdists/musicians formed a decade ago in Moscow shares the book's sense for mixing whimsy and wisdom.
In the case of the band, it's an in-your-face kind of whimsy, with a lot of running around, shouting and dancing: Add the Eastern European and Russian accents and you've got something like Volga boatmen standing in for the Furious Flames. Yuri Fedorko--vocalist and player of guitar and bayan [accordion]--is an impressive acrobat, especially when seen, with feet flying, within the confines of a club; watching him gyrate invariably brings about contemplation of all the ways falling onto a table full of beer bottles is different--worse--than falling onto a tumbling mat. Musically the band plugs into that secret discovered by Brave Combo years ago, the overlooked danceability of Eastern European rhythms (of which polka is but one) and the ease with which they can assume the duties of rock--even ska and punk. While tripping along a full-press tour of silly Cossack references, band members goof and entertain, yes, but they're also accomplished musicians, adept enough to be able to offer the audience interesting playing between the yucks.
The band--whose members began emigrating to America starting in 1991--transmits the essential "otherness" of Russia, and on a deeper-than-Dr. Zhivago level. It's there in their tunings, arrangements, and varied instrumentation: Balalaikas, trumpets, and trombones hammer and dart about, carried along by your basic guitar/bass/drum. The group wowed the notoriously picky audience at the Kerrville Folk Festival and was a hit at last year's South by Southwest music conference.
Limpopo performs at Poor David's Pub August 28.