As night fell in Charlotte, the air finally reached a comfortable temperature. I rolled up to the Double Door Inn early and studied German banking terms as the band’s van pulled up to the front and unloaded. Igor & The Red Elvises looked tired, especially Igor, after driving all day from Orlando. But there was a show to put on. And put on a show they did.
As the music began, the band immediately conjured up an ambiance of surf-tinged mystery. If it were a Scooby-Doo episode, the bad guy would have long hair and live in a small fishing shack on the beach. It was Igor, rocking out with Lady Albatross on sax, Dejah Sandoval on the red bass balalaika, Jasmin Guevara pounding life into the drums, and Tim Hayn on keys and trumpet. The song ended in an oceanic swell, crashing to an end, beautiful and loud.
They continued the set with “Night Butterfly,” Dejah on vocals. The saxophone was glorious, like the keystone of a Bill Clinton fantasy, and just when my ears were about to burst from the gleeful vibrations, Igor grabbed his guitar by the neck and took a wild ride, hanging ten in shimmering dichromatic glory, like the most outrageous marine animal to every come out of the USSR. With “Beer, Babes and BBQ,” the band shared their comfort food and every body in the club was pushed into motion by the invisible forces of music. Lady Albatross took Igor’s mic for “Telephone Call From Istanbul,” rasping out line after line with some artful pharyngeal constriction and shifting to the brass without missing a neon-colored beat. Jasmin took a turn with a remarkable solo, followed by an equally remarkable bass solo by Dejah.
As Igor introduced “She Works for KGB,” he encouraged all the KGB agents in the crowd to sing along, “but not too loud so nobody will know.” The song progressed, with all the dangerous presentiments of Crack the Whip at the roller rink. During “Gypsy Heart” I had the sudden feeling that I would follow that guitar wherever it goes, Igor’s fingers stringing me along. (He could be a great cult leader.) The group played on, shifting from surf to rock to polka to pleasure, starting slow and picking up speed like a psychotic gyroscope until the music was coming at a fevered pitch, welcomed by the crowd with open arms and boogieing feet. Even the office worker in the polo shirt and khakis was dancing.
“Strip Joint is Closed” was introduced to the crowd as a sad song, which Igor emphasized by playing part of his guitar solo with the tuning pegs, going down to woefully slack and back up to optimistically taut. Perhaps the way he handles a guitar is the way he lives his life: from the lows of tedious hours on the road to the highs of screaming, delighted fans in multiple continents in the whirlwind span of just a few months. The band really got things rocking, fine tuning the crowd down to a whisper, replete with snapping and scatting. Tim exercised his supple vocals for “Love Rocket,” effortlessly coordinating the audience members in a synchronized corroboree praising the gods of love, debauchery, and smokables.
Speaking of things you can smoke, the highly anticipated track “Bacon” really roused the place, and as Igor sang the lyrics, he did so in earnest. In the world of the Red Elvises, bacon is everything: mother, father, child, second cousin, even mother-in-law, under the right circumstances. To be a little piggy who ends up at McDonald’s is an unenviable fate. However, the bacon cheeseburger would not be the bacon cheeseburger without the valiant sacrifice of a little piggy (or if the activists are correct, a bloated factory-farmed hog). Perhaps Igor wants everyone to know that we are all the salty, flavorful bacon on a cosmic cheeseburger. After all, we are all the center of our own universe, and the bacon is the best part.
The show continued, rocking and rolling to such an extent, in an animated reality, the view of the Double Door Inn would be one that expanded and contracted with enough whimsy to make Theodor Geisel smile. As the band played through “I Wanna See You Bellydance” like a gambling addict playing carnival games, half the audience boogied while the other half woogied.
Between sets, Dejah sold merch and gave away kindness as Jasmin started a game of pool in the back. Meanwhile, Igor disappeared in a cloud of artistic sweat, just long enough to regroup before rocking through “Drinking with Jesus” and “Twist Like Uma Thurman.” Lady Albatross took over the vocals for the latter, with resonance rich and full, making me crave an uncomfortable dinner in a retro diner. What a versatile group! As the fivesome conjured sweet, beautiful music out of nothing but mechanical marvels (with a little bit of electricity so the kids in the back could hear), they interchanged roles like swingers at a key party. Dejah whipped out vocals like Julia Child whipping meringue: magnetically full and swinging, and with such mirth! Then Igor returned to the mic and full-throttled enjoyment. Lady Albatross played a solo on flute that made me finally understand, after twenty years in a conundrum, why anyone would want to play the flute. (Getting to be that good must be awfully hard.)
Ever since I first learned about synesthesia, I have yearned for the neural circuitry to be treated to a visual show when confronted with some truly marvelous melody. (Incidentally, I met a woman – a clarinetist – the other day who had recently discovered that if she attends a concert shortly after visiting an art museum, she is able to see the concert. That’s some highbrow pregaming.) When Lady Albatross played a solo on the sax, I came close. The vision? The band in their cartoon form: bold forms and bright colors. When the solo turned to Jasmin, she powered through, calling forth something ancient and pagan, something that lies within us all but so few manage to harness. But Jasmin has harnessed it and cajoled it into doing the music’s bidding. She is metaphysical mastery in pink hair and sequins.
The music played on and the audience fell deeper and deeper into rapture: “My Grandma Smoking Dope,” “Bourbon Street,” “Closet Disco Dancer” (index finger and all), and “Juliet” with Igor caressing the guitar strings to create a sound like beef stew so tender you don’t have to chew. The drums opened “My Love is Killing Me” like a $20 appetizer, light but flavorful and textured. I lost myself in the guitar solo, like a kid staring at an aquarium. In a haze of delight, I danced at “Lana’s Wedding” and before I knew it, the show was over. The band left the stage and I didn’t want to leave, as if the reverberations of recent musical memories could continue for just a little longer.
Looking at the framed autographs lining the walls, I appreciated the band for having chosen to rock such an intimate venue as it breathes its last sighs of music. The Red Elvises will be back in town in the spring, like musical migratory birds, and I cannot wait to see their brilliant plumage again.