Bring on the Vodka and the Yak Fur!

Uz Jsme Doma's 'Don Rickles' on keys Uz Jsme Doma
with the High Llamas
The Starfish Room
Vancouver, B.C.
Friday, November 21, 1997

Review by Darren Kerr
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

If I had known what I was in for from this show put on by Brian 'Godzilla' Salmi, grand poobah of the Gnu Democratic Party, Mighty Niagara (RIP) wazoo and all around shit disturber, I would've gotten cossack-dancing drunk on powerful vodka and wore a big jacket of yak fur. Uz Jsme Doma are much more than just a band from Czechoslovakia, they are the drama and opera of Prague steeped in the wild weirdness of the old (Captain Beefheart, Mothers of Invention, Laibach) and the new (Mr. Bungle, Boredoms).

Uz Jsme Doma's 'Don Rickles' on guitar, this time That alone would be enough, but you must add frenetic ska, cabaret, speed metal, and punk rock to this musical cluster. I overheard someone say, "They'd be great if they sang in English." But that is precisely the thing that make Uz Jsme Doma stand out amongst the faceless hordes. Could you imagine the Boredoms singing in English, or any language, for that matter? Look what happened to the Cocteau Twins when Liz Fraser started singing actual words -- they were Hallmark card babble deserving of Jane Siberry. But I digress...

UJB's sax player All the members of UJD sing ('cepting the drummer). They also growl, yodel, and chirp in falsetto, quite often all at once, creating bizarre songs in the round. What starts out low and Teutonic could break into an all-out heavy punk assault and vice versa. The sax player was so focused it was scary. He wore the intense look of a Shaolin master in a dubbed kung-fu movie, with some of the moves as well. The one who sang most often resembled an out patient Don Rickles. He also played keyboards, real death-defying "Flight of the Bumblebee" type stuff.

The guitarist meanwhile wore a Haight-Ashbury shirt. I thought to myself, "Whoa, I couldn't imagine this experience on psychedelics, their trip or mine." For all the hippie aspirations though, the band's playing was martian rhythm and plutonium crunch. Every strange scale was a different planet. One thing was apparent, though -- these guys loved every minute they were onstage. They need a Canadian distributor. Somebody give 'em a deal for chrissakes!

Openers the High Llamas were Burt Bacharach to Uz Jsme Doma's Richard Wagner. Lilting strings, chiming guitars and sweeping swoopy electronics blended together to confuse the hell out of one-half of the audience and put big goofy smiles on the rest (I belonged to the latter). I was quite amazed that the Llamas had more of a Zappa influence than UJD. The orchestration, especially the harmony lines, would be very much at home on Frank Zappa's classic Lumpy Gravy album.

Sean O'Hagan Much ink has been spilled writing of the band's Beach Boys connection. Leader (and sometimes Stereolab cohort) Sean O'Hagan was even entrenched in the camp of the Beach Boys in an adventurous but futile attempt to return them to the land of Pet Sounds, way before the Full House simpering of "Kokomo." Tonight the vocal harmonies of O'Hagan, the keyboardist, and the other guitar player were like a group voice BA-BA-BA-ing along as if the music was a score from one of those late sixties counterculture flicks where the main character goes from stolid to enlightened (I Love You Alice B. Toklas immediately comes to mind).

High LLamas' bass player While O'Hagan looked nervous fingering his guitar and fiddling with his organ, the rest of the band seemed comfortable even though they were crammed together with little room to move, what will the amount of instruments and sonic doohickeys domineering the stage. The string section even took advantage of a lengthy song break to share a nice leisurely joint.

What it all boiled down to was how much sweetness could you stand, how long could you watch the sunrise before you started to see green dots, and how many loungy soundscapes could you swallow? My brain started to fry three-quarters through, but the last song possessed one of those extended codas so hypnotic you hoped it never ends. It ended. The machine went ping. The High Llamas retreated down the mountain to a backstage room no doubt with pakalolo and Hawaiian Punch, and Godzilla found a good drinking rhythm.

The night was young. Is everybody in? The celebration is... well, you know.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on December 22, 1997

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