A few moments before Avtograf went on stage Monday night at the 9:30 club, the air of expectancy was so thick you could cut it with a ballistic missile. But the five-member Avtograf -- the first Soviet rock band ever to perform in the United States -- came out and played ... plain old arena rock. Vocalist Arthur Micheyev's voice sounds like Ian Hunter back in the Mott the Hoople days. He even looked like a regular rocker, pairing black leather with a white button-down shirt.

Most of Avtograf's material sounded the same: heavy drum and synthesizer with anthemlike melodies punctuated here and there by squealing guitar leads. "Tune" sounded as American as apple pie. The most intriguing songs were those sung in Russian, including "Headache," during which Micheyev led the audience in over-the-head clapping. A leaden ballad called "We Need Peace" was also a highlight, if only for its message.

Their set hit rock bottom just before it was over. Meri D., a Texas singer who helped arrange Avtograf's U.S. tour and performed a mediocre opening set Monday night, came back to howl her way through a duet called "You Can Be Love," in which she and Micheyev sang, "We are the never-ending light, we can do anything we try." It's hard to guess why Avtograf's Dale Carnegie-ish lyrics sound so empty -- is it because of state intervention or is it that Meri D., who helped Avtograf translate its material into English, had a hand in it?

Shots of Stoly sold for $2.25, and sweat shirts and posters were available for a good deal more. Capitalism isn't history yet.