Friday, April 4, 2008

Gig Review: Michal Prokop & Framus Five

Palác Akropolis
3rd April 2008

Michal Prokop’s live band is always worth seeing, although the chances to do so are not that numerous. Playing a handful of gigs at a time, up and down the country, they can be quite hard to catch. As such it is a pity that more people didn’t take the opportunity to come to this show. It could have been due to the early start time of 7:30, which on a working day in a capital city is just silly. Or it could have been because the tickets didn’t go on sale until a week before the gig, deterring all but the determined from booking in advance. Whatever, it was a small but enthusiastic crowd that gathered at the Akropolis, and it was to the credit of the band that they played such a blinder of a show.

The set-list contained the usual Prokop material, including the dark Beatles-quoting “Kolej Yesterday”, the anthemic “Blues o spolykaných slovech” and the boozy, brassy romp of “Vedro nad Prahou”. The instrumental ending of Prokop’s signature “Bitva o Karlův most” featured, as usual, a duel between Luboš Andršt on guitar and Jan Hrubý on violin. Done countless times before, yet always sounding fresh and spontaneous, this friendly battle between two long-time associates and musical heavyweights is a high-energy and high-thrill blast.

We can go no further without turning an affectionate eye to the violinist of this outfit: the living legend that is Honza Hrubý. With shaggy hair, a slightly bemused look, and a bottle opener perpetually hanging from his belt, Hrubý has a presence that would make even Paganini blush. Whether it is his rapid rhythmic playing or the glorious swoops of gypsy-style “Zloději času”, he adds a unique sound and sensibility to proceedings. A true classical rock violinist in the great Progressive tradition, he pauses from genius only to swig more beer, before setting off again on another journey of musical exploration. He is an excellent writer too, as evidenced by “Tullamore Dew”. Songs about whiskey are cool and you know it.

Prokop, singer and rhythm guitarist, TV star, and formerly the deputy minister for culture, delivers the lyrics with inimitable gusto. A large and charismatic stage presence, he sings with emotion, humour, and real feel. During the instrumental passages he is often found either mimicking or teasing the lead players, offering Hrubý some busker’s cash or highlighting Andršt's deft finger movements. Despite his years on stage he performs with an earthy roughness; a pop-star who has never forgotten that he is a musician.

The first set was based around shorter songs, but the second contained longer, extended instrumental work. Adaptations of blues classics such as “Boom Boom” (John Lee Hooker) and “Hoochie Coochie Man” (Willie Dixon) gave everyone a chance to shine. The familiar rhythm section of Wimpy Tichota on bass and Pavel Razím on drums kept everything anchored down while Andršt sprayed and splintered heartily. By this time the small crowd has lost some of its reservation and we even had some dancers by the front of the stage. Loud calls for an encore brought them out to finish off with the pleasing mellow bluesy “Noc je můj den”.

Michal Prokop is considered to be one of the mainstays of Czech music, from his triumph at the first Czechoslovakian beat festival in 1967 to his platinum-awarded sixtieth birthday concert released on DVD and CD last year. As such his shows are cultural experience as well as a top-notch concert. The next time he hits town you owe it to yourself to go.

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