The Engine Room played host to Houston’s first appearance of the legendary Russian rock band Aquarium, led by Russian rock icon, Boris Grebenschikov, Wednesday, March 3, 2004.
Lines of excited fans stretched around the block of the nondescript Engine Room in anticipation of hearing the revered band perform. Concert goers, who had only met through internet forums, called happy greetings to each other as they arrived from all over Texas and neighboring states to see Aquarium. Although, over 90,000 Russian Americans call Texas home, not a single Texas drawl was heard. Melodic Russian chatter filled the street, reminiscent of the outlawed underground music festivals of Communist Russia during the eighties, from which sprang the Grebenschikov legacy.
Often called a way of life rather than a band, Grebenschikov and Aquarium have been compared to Elvis and Beatles, for the ecstasy they provoke, and have been compared to The Grateful Dead, for the cult like devotion of their fans. Grebenschikov’s songwriting has been said to compare with Bob Dylan. But, in truth, there is no American musical equivalent for Boris Grebenschikov’s poetic genius set in song . As Americans, we often have trouble understanding what we cannot equate with ourselves. With this in mind, picture a blue-eyed, mischievous , hard rocking Gandhi that can turn a phrase like Whitman, Plath, or Blake to get a better idea of Grebenschikov’s place in modern music. In the English language, poetry of this magnitude is not found in music but only in literature.
Boris’ songs read equally well in English as in Russian. But after releasing only a couple of English language albums in 1989 and 1990, Grebenschikov has restricted his songwriting to his Russian roots. This has been a blow to American fans who came to know and love Aquarium during the Radio Silence period of 1989. This album has been credited with prompting most Americans who heard it to learn Russian.
Stepping off a plane only hours before concert time, the band could be heard outside The Engine Room tuning up and perfecting the sound by the expectant fans . Veteran fans of Aquarium knew not to expect the concert to begin at the appointed 8:00 P.M. Aquarium runs on not on Central Standard time, but Grebenschikov time The concert would begin an hour and fifteen minutes later, only when all had been arranged to Boris’ satisfaction.
Burning incense sent mystical trails of smoke into the night air as the band hit the stage, and all waiting was forgotten or deemed worthy by the crowd. Boris greeted the room with his traditional palms up Buddhist gesture. The electric violin began the first song as Grebenschikov bounded face down to kiss the stage. A roar went up from the crowd and the Aquarium experience had begun.
Boris’ mesmerizing melodic voice began to weave in and out among the fans functioning like a living opiate. Music rose not just from traditional rock guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, but also from electrified violins, clarinets, saxophones, and harmonica. No pyrotechnics or elaborate light shows were needed or used. The crowd swayed and sang with arms aloft, hypnotized by the Pied Pipers of St. Petersburg. Lovers danced and held each other to favorite songs retrieving memories from times far away. Just when one expected Grebenschikov to float off the stage with the crowd flowing behind him down Hwy 45 to the sea, a hard driving tune would emerge to take fans to a new plateau.
After almost two hours, Aquarium left the stage with the crowd wanting more. Grebenschikov did not come back with the usual American encore of two songs. Instead Aquarium played for another half hour producing some of the best music of the night.
This is a must see event for the jaded rock fans who think they have seen and heard it all.
Friday, Sophia Grinblat, owner and editor of the Russian language, Houston newspaper, Our Texas, who orchestrated the Aquarium appearance, said Our Texas was pleased with the concert and would be inviting Grebenschikov and Aquarium to play Houston, again, on their next American tour.
Russian Songwriter A Collection by Boris Grebenshikov is the only current CD readily available in the United States. However, Radio Silence can still be located.