“WE ARE NOT a good band for Nebraska,” admits Ivan Bierhanzl, contrabassist of Plastic People of the Universe. “We expect to play for the Czech community, but in the Midwest, the Czech community is second or third generation. They want to hear polka, not some wild and crazy band.”
The Plastic People strive to take listeners on intergalactic voyages and evoke a swelling orchestra, an idiot savant funk act, a dance party in Europe’s backwoods, or a weird, dark rock band with equal verve. That PPU can play Nebraska — or, on Thursday, Arlington — at all is a near-miracle.
The seven-person group, which has gone through countless incarnations and features violin, keyboards and clarinet, in addition to drums and guitars, rose to prominence in Prague during the ’60s and ’70s, mixing rainy jazz, aggressively dissonant trailblazing and a penchant for The Velvet Underground to forge a still-fresh Bohemian style that, due to its sheer nonconformity, inevitably ran afoul of Czechoslovakia‘s Soviet overlords.
After decades of government persecution (taking forms such as arrest, arson, exile and long jail stints), PPU was reborn after the fall of Communism, thanks to the prodding of the Czech Republic’s playwright president, Vaclav Havel, a close associate of the band.
PPU, which repeatedly terms the state of rock “boring,” continues to play nearly 100 gigs a year and is working on a new album and a Prague production of Tom Stoppard‘s play “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
And 40 years into a wholly singular career, the Plastic People’s mission remains the same — and as vital as ever. “The role of PPU is to be an alternative to the mainstream,” concluded bassist and vocalist Eva Turnova.
» Iota, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; Thu., 8:30 p.m., $15; 703-522-8340. (Clarendon)
Written by Express contributor Tim Follos
Photo courtesy Yonas Media
» Read our previous feature on Plastic People from Sept. 2007.