By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Hlavsa has called the harder-rocking Pulnoc "less pessimistic" than the later-period Plastics, and Brabenec evokes that same sense of newfound optimism in his own description of their reassembled band, which he describes as "lighter, more ironic and satirical, not so depressive." In other words, it's the sound the band was going for almost 30 years ago. With all its original members and augmented by a pop-wise Canadian guitarist, Joe Karafiat, the band one hears on last year's Live 1997(Globus International) is downright vivacious, almost plucky. If the music they once made as they marched deeper into the dark '70s and '80s was heavy and lugubrious, the performances on 1997 capture the mood of people walking into an amusement park.
My friend Keith Harris compares them to Pere Ubu, and their meta-industrial power-chords are of a piece, though Jan Brabec's primal drumming is a bit more leaden than Ubu's alloyed pulse. Another friend-fan compares them to Sonic Youth, and they certainly can flail, often denying one's body the catharsis Hlavsa's low-end oomph seems to assure us is right around the corner. Which should only make sense coming from a band that might know the pains of delayed gratification better than any other musicians on earth. So if 1997 is a little hard to parse on the first, say, ten listens, let it work on you for a while. After about 20, what I hear is the weirdest--and, with the exception of the Dead, possibly the greatest--jam band in the world, a loose-limbed avant-blues consortium whose multipartite structures, wicka-wicka riffs, and danceable, if ungainly, rhythms slowly overwhelm anyone who agrees to meet the music halfway.
Fishing for a metaphor to describe the new essence, Brabenec comes upon "a fresh coat of paint," and goes on to note that he hears "promises for a new future." Both are certainly there, but I also hear the sound of a band looking through its back pages--rediscovering and redefining what made the original Plastic People worthwhile in the first place. Which is about the best thing you can ask of a classic-rock band, isn't it?
Plastic People of the Universe play 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 6 at the 400 Bar; (612) 332-2903.