Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gig Review: Michal Prokop, Luboš Andršt, Jan Hrubý

10th May 2008
Jiřího z Poděbrad

There are many ways to enjoy the live music scene in Prague. A personal favourite has to be the free open-air concerts that can regularly appear celebrating this, that, and usually some of the other. Whether it is to commemorate the anniversary of Czechoslovakian Statehood (remember that country?) or just to remind people that Communism is bad (remember the KGB?), nothing cries freedom better than standing around in the sun and watching great bands while drinking beer.

This time it was the 550th anniversary of the crowning of Jiří z Poděbrad (George of Poděbrady), Hussite leader and King of Bohemia. A day-long programme featured a variety of Czech talents, from veteran singers Jitka Zelenková and Marta Kubišová to Jakub Smolík, who could quite easily beat Cliff Richard in a Cliff-A-Like contest. He threw photos into the crowd for signing later, while Jagabab threw in some rhythmic medieval tunes. We also had drum majorettes from Poděbrady (see the raincoats scuttle), a championship cocktail mixing demonstration, and a historical recreation of Czech George getting his shiny hat. The temperature of the afternoon sun was high and the price of the brewskis was low, but it was in the evening gloom that the Michal Prokop, Luboš Andršt and Jan Hrubý took to the stage.

One of the disadvantages of festival gigging is that there is little time to set up beforehand, and as such a frantic ten minute sound check and amp-slap (in order to get rid of an annoying buzz) was required. But once the gear was set up and they launched into “Rain” (Jose Feliciano) it was clear that they were on form. Punchy, rhythmic, and with its English lyrics convincingly sung, it was a good song to get the crowd in the mood and also to kill off the last of the squeaks from the valve amps. It also showed (as always) that this “unplugged” band is not a weak, watered-down version of Framus Five. It is a dynamic and interesting outfit in its own right, even though it might share some of its repertoire with its big brother.

The great strength of this acoustic trio is that they have space and freedom to improvise and adapt. As such the music always has a spontaneous feel that you can’t reproduce with a larger band. After playing together for many years there is an almost telepathic relationship between Andršt on acoustic guitar and Hrubý on violin, best exhibited during their duel at the end of “Bitva o Karlův most”. Playing off each other, and occasionally tripping each other up in their battle of virtuosity, it was perhaps the bow that won tonight. A close call though...

With no bassist in the outfit LA manages to assume some of the low end duties on his acoustic axe, integrating the beat within his dextrous flurries. Meanwhile Prokop himself, playing more rhythm guitar than with the larger electric band, is a powerful and emotive singer in both languages. “Hoochie Coochie Man” was delivered with an emphatic growl and harmonica, while the Czech centrefold of “Miss July” was light and wry. It was Luboš who took the lead during the instrumental jam in the middle of HCM with some lightening moves over the frets, before Jan hit it with a solo that almost made him slide off his chair. Looking calm and reposed during rare moments of inaction, then exploding with body language and sound when the mood takes, he is always a character worth watching on stage.

There was time for a single encore of “Dobrú noc má milá”, a plaintive discordant melody that transforms into an extended instrumental thrash worthy of the most Proggy of folksters. All of this to loud and well-deserved applause of course, from the hardy crowd who were starting to button up their shirts and restore their outer clothing in the cooling Prague night. Maybe some of this coolness was due to a storm coming from the west, or maybe it was due to the guys on stage; their acoustic trio is about as cool as it gets.

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