See their official website: http://www.billysband.ru/ Tackling anything by Tom Waits is like wrestling an alligator: do it well and you`ve got a new pair of shoes:, screw up and you`re dead, Jack. Describing themselves as a Dixiland funeral with an infinite happy end, Billy`s band is on the fringe in its St.Petersburg home and will be on the fringe of the fringe here. Bandleader, Billy Novik heard Waits` “Early Years, vol.1”, and that is all she wrote. Novik barks gruff and hip (in Russian and English) just like Waits – or perhaps Cookie Monster on a vodka bender.
A great deal of the band`s repertoire is Waits` stuff, and when the band ventures out on its own, the genius, the oddity, and the antiquated charm still shines, just like those alligator shoes I was talking about. Billy's Band, the Tom Waits-inspired outfit from St. Petersburg, Russia, was held up at the Canadian border Friday while on its way to the Rochester International Jazz Festival. But fest co-producer John Nugent, who has a lot of experience in dealing with passport issues and paper problems, managed to talk the guys into the country in time for their shows at Max of Eastman Place. Safely onstage, they stole the night with their blend of beat-poet ballads, off-kilter rhythms and comedic timing.
CDs were snapped up by consumers hungry for the band's brand of compelling weirdness. All of the English-language ones were gone by the second show, but I bought two, anyway: Anybody out there speak Russian? The word on the street, which I picked up rather late, was that the guys from St. Petersburg, Russia were tearing down the house over at Max. Having had plenty of straight-ahead jazz from the Hammers, I left early to see what the fuss was about.
And now, after the fact, I'm kicking myself that I didn't heed the advice sooner. Billy's Band is like a combined Dixieland and polka band that plays almost jazzy. When you hear a big smash, it's one of the dudes crashing cymbals over his head to a crazy march. The lead singer/bassist (yeah, it's a bassist heading the ship) Billy Novik has a voice that can only be compared to Louis Armstrong.
It's gritty and feels like it comes straight out of his gut. But he's a funny little white guy with a funny hat and even funnier stories about being told the difference between a bass and a coffin ("the dead guy's inside of the coffin"). They were wearing worn-down trench coats and no shirts, letting their bellies show for everyone. You might call them strange, but just call them special. They were that kind of underground street band that's got oodles of talent, but you don't want them to be too big because that dark atmosphere really suits their style.
The crowd went wild for these guys, bringing them out for an encore and standing ovation. might pick up a CD tomorrow -- they were that good. If Thursday night is the unofficial start of the weekend, Friday is the real thing. Go out, enjoy the late-night stuff. If any of Billy's Band gets up there, I'm gonna be lovin' it.
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