Plastic People of the Universe – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 24 January 2007

27. 12. 2007 | Rubriky: Articles,Live reviews

[by Ken Hunt, London] Founded in 1968 in Czechoslovakia, the Plastic People of the Universe finally made their UK début in January 2007. No founding members played but the spirit of the band that commandeered its name from a Mothers of Invention track remained intact and strong. The Communist regime vilified the “psychedelic band of Prague” nicely captured in Cesar di Ferara’s 1970 black-and-white romp of a film – very post-Help! – that linked then and now at their Queen Elizabeth Hall opening. In Václav Havel’s words they were “layabouts, hooligans, alcoholics, and drug addicts”. Members of the circle were gaoled. PPU recordings were banned, though circulated in samizdat form. They became counter-culture in ways quite different from the general way the term is understood when rockin’ in the West. Quite predictably, people tend to talk less about the Plastic People of the Universe’s music than Kremlin-era politics, the Charter 77 movement – whose thirtieth anniversary the concert celebrated – and the path to 1989’s Velvet Revolution. Or, heaven forfend, Tom Stoppard’s play Rockn’ Roll.

Expectations see-sawed. No Czech I spoke to had ever seen them play in their heyday or indeed ever. Plus PPU’s spin-off band Půlnoc (Midnight) had garnered the greater reputation for musicianship. Were they going to be ramshackle? Too hippie? Too Czech?

Titles that translate as ‘A Fly In The Morning Beer’, ‘Longjohns’ (an adaptation of a poem by the German gallows-song poet Christian Morgenstern), ‘Toxic Chemicals’ and ‘Television Idyll’ suggest their embrace of absurdity, social commentary and unpredictability, but not the septet’s power. Comprising Ivan Bierhanzl (basses), Vratislav Brabenec (saxes, clarinet, vocals), Josef Janíček (keyboards, vocals), Jiři Kabeš (viola, theremin, vocals), Ludvík Kandl (drums), Joe Karafiát (electric guitar, vocals) and Eva Turnová (electric bass, vocals), they tore into a set so tight and spontaneous that it reminded me of those flights of seashore birds that wheel and roll like speeded-up smoke. It was an event that exceeded all expectations and a date that henceforth shall remain hallowed in this hooligan’s memory.

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