22. 6. 2004
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Britské listy

ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
22. 6. 2004

Czechs look for a SuperStar?!

The famous Lucerna Music Bar in Prague has undoubtedly seen many intriguing performances since its opening in the 1920s. Playing a sold-out concert at the prestigious club remains the dream of most Czech groups. On Thursday, 10th June 2004 the Lucerna hosted an interesting double act of relative newcomers Bůhví (founded in 1995 but really taking off only in 2002) on the one hand and their much more experienced hosts Neřež on the other. (The founding duo Vřeštˇál and Sázavský has been playing together since 1979.) The unusual Czech practice of one band plus "guest" meant that the Neřež performance was sandwiched between two sections of Bůhví.

One thing deserves mentioning at the very beginning of this review: the sound at the Lucerna was absolutely appalling as nearly everybody could tell.

The lyrics were consequently nearly impossible to make out (especially in the case of Bůhví, Neřež played out their whole routine and made the best of the situation), the instruments did not sound clear or were hardly audible (Vít Sázavský's violin for instance). As Sázavský told me after the concert: "There are two sound engineers at the Lucerna. One is excellent and the other one is bad. Tell me, who did we have today?" The poor sound quality certainly did nothing to raise the level of the concert; the atmosphere, however, was great from the very beginning.

Bůhví started playing just after 9 pm. The whole band with the exception of the drummer and the percussionist was decked out in very bright-coloured shirts (reminiscent of either Czech folk costumes or the hideous Caribbean shirts British men tend to wear for a night on the town). Bůhví has been praised as an interesting and original mixture of many styles, therefore the sight of mostly female fans standing in front of the stage screaming and taking pictures and the tables reserved for Sony Bontonland representatives on one side of the stage was slightly disconcerting. The male part of the audience was somewhat less enthusiastic, functioning, I suspect, mainly as accompaniment to their girlfriends and wives.

The reason for Bůhví's leap in popularity is not so much, one feels, the quality of their music or songs. I do not doubt Martin Hrubý's ability to write songs yet his voice leaves something to be desired, as does the trumpetist's performance. The main magnet was a bare-footed boy clad in shorts and a bright green shirt sitting behind a keyboard. His name is Ondřej Brzobohatý. For a second he reminded me of Nick Carter of the American boy group Backstreet Boys (Brzobohatý joined Bůhví aged 20 compared to Carter's 16 when he started performing with the popular American boy group). Since Brzobohatý joined Bůhví in 2002 the band has steadily gained in popularity and received more publicity. Brzobohatý `s keyboarding skills are fairly good, he also occasionally sang some songs, at which point many girls went as crazy as if at a Backstreet Boys concert. Unfortunately, Brzobohatý also decided to take centre stage for some sort of rap song, moving around in a forced "cool", hip-hop-style fashion.

Watching him making an utter fool of himself led me to the conclusion that Brzobohatý was hired not so much thanks to his skills as a musician, singer or dancer but merely for his looks, his charisma and his connections in the Czech media. You see he works as a DJ for Český rozhlas and is therefore ideally placed to promote his band. Secondly, and much more significantly, Brzobohatý is one of the presenters of Česko hledá SuperStar, a show that has become immensely popular in both Western Europe and in the new EU countries. Meanwhile the Česko hledá SuperStar craze has reached such an absurd point that even broadsheets such as MF Dnes and Lidové Noviny have begun writing about the programme. And with his fresh face, blond hair and youthful charisma Brzobohatý has risen to higher fame than most of the would-be stars on the show. Needless to say that the interest in him has fuelled interest in Bůhví as well.

Bůhví performed with trumpet, drums, percussion, bass, acoustic guitar and keyboard with Hrubý singing most of the songs supported by Brzobohatý and the bass guitarist (attempting to look like the King of Rock'n'Roll himself towards the end of the show). Bůhví's style is indeed hard to define; however, the impression I gained was not one of versatility and novelty but of a band mixing as many styles as possible in an artificial and calculated attempt to sound "original". Brzobohatý's ventures into the realm of hip hop were embarrassing and stiff, so were the rock'n'roll belters at the end, the attempts at jazz and the many waltz-inspired songs Hrubý sang. Some of the songs did hint at the band's talent, in particular the quieter ones that emphasised the lyrics and not the melody. On the whole though the concert did not indicate any clear direction in which the band was moving, a slightly alarming fact considering the band has been playing together for a good few years. If one goes by this one concert Bůhví could be described as a blend of fashionable styles with precious little input of their own (the lyrics). The band's attempts appeared designed and dictated by marketing strategies: the matching shirts, the stage action, sunglasses in Elvis-style and throwing sweat-drenched towels into the audience, Brzobohatý's Nick Carter imitation and Hrubý's "homage" to big band jazz (not possessing either the voice nor appearance for this kind of music). Sadly enough, most people did not grasp the superficiality of the music and enjoyed the performance singing along with Hrubý at the end. Some sceptical faces remained -- above all, among the male part of the audience.

Neřež are certainly better known to the listener under their old name Nerez (used before the band split up in 1995). Since Neřež consists to 66.6 per cent of the original Neřež - see the witty liner notes written by Zdeněk Vřeštˇál for the first Neřež album released in 1998 -- the only partial name change makes sense. The name looks familiar and recognisable yet acknowledges the changes in the line-up after the departure of Zuzana Navarová. Continuity is thus kept to indicate that nothing much has actually changed. (See the liner notes again, also for further clever "Vřeštˇálesque" elaborations on the correct grammatical use of "Neřež").

The rather low-key appearance of Neřež on the scene in late 1997 is partly to blame for the fact that many people seem to be ignorant of the band's existence. The other reason might be that folk as a genre is not as popular with listeners as it used to be during communism and shortly afterwards. In the communist era folk was -- along with jazz -- a genre that offered artists a relative great measure of freedom. Criticism was artfully hidden in metaphors while the instrumental side was simply far less offensive than rock music. In an era when nearly everything can be said and done openly subtle criticism (as in many folk lyrics) is not nearly as exciting as it used to be. Besides, folk musicians have to vie for the listener's attention with a great number of other musicians and styles, not to mention the international stars that are flooding the Czech market and concert scene. It appears that, despite a number of large and popular folk festivals during the summer, the genre has suffered an undeniable decline in popularity in particular among young people. Many people only returned to folk with the advent of Čechomor on the scene. Yet Čechomor and their now numerous imitators are often closer to rock and pop than to traditional folk.

Labelling Neřež folk is as misleading as it is wrong. When I first listened to their album Nebezpečný síly (released in 1999) I was not quite sure what to make of the style. Categorisation of music is not my aim but personally I like to refer to their music as "city folk" with its elements of Latin-American, Jewish and Roma music, its Beatlesque polyphony and, above all, intelligent and frequently sarcastic lyrics. (Zdeněk Vřeštˇál once told me that he disliked being put in any one particular drawer. So let every listener judge for himself.) Neřež enjoy popularity as is evident at their concerts but their appeal is not as great as in the heydays of Nerez. Which is probably not Vřeštˇál and Sázavský's pronounced goal either since both have proven to be very versatile musicians who are sought producers, arrangers, accompanying musicians (most notably Jaromír Nohavica and Marie Rottrová) as well as songwriters (Vřeštˇál writes for the likes of Marie Rottrová as well as Krausberry and J.A.R.). Last but not least they are owners of their own agency which supports new artists.

At Mezi ploty Vřeštˇál called the forthcoming concert with Bůhví a "generational duel", claiming that the members of Bůhví could be their sons, before, after a short pause and with a twinkle in his eye, eventually saying that they might even be their grandsons. The age gap certainly is not that big, the gap in experience and possibly ability, however, is. At the moment the band is producing its 4th album and promoting it becomes increasingly difficult in a highly competitive as well as shrinking market in a country where everybody seems obsessed with burning CDs. So the concert with Bůhví was less a contest than a chance to promote the forthcoming album, as Sázavský explained to me after the concert. (A pre-release single was handed out for free at the concert). Witnessing the madness around the Bůhví performance, Neřež reacted in style by performing the quiet Pod peřinou, which saw both Vřeštˇál and Sázavský grinning broadly at the sight of the numerous female (Bůhví) fans. Only then did they play their standard opening song, Nebezpečný síly.

The Neřež concert was everything Bůhví's was not. Neřež also mix various styles; however, in contrast to Bůhví Vřeštˇál and Sázavský have found their original style and they also manage to present it convincingly. Neřež made do without tricks like themed shirts and wild stage action. They won the fans over with their charisma, with their intelligent songs and jokes, Vřeštˇál talking at length about the songs and Neřež's history while Sázavský displayed his considerable acting talent, in particular during the humorous songs. What pleasantly surprised me was the warm reception by most of the female fans who seemed to have come exclusively for the Bůhví performance: they knew many Neřež songs by heart, most notably the biggest hit Já s tebou žít nebudu. After playing several encores Neřež left the stage to enthusiastic applause.

One final word about longevity: Bůhví may be more successful in the next year or so than their older colleagues. Nevertheless it remains to be seen how long the hype around Brzobohatý will last and whether the attention generated by his work on SuperStar will not spell the end of Bůhví's career in the longer run. The band has proven its ability before Brzobohatý's arrival yet the pressure of the present craze might well be too much for the band. Vřeštˇál and Sázavský on the other hand have survived quite a few ups and downs in their career, relying more or less on their own abilities than on the fickle attention of the media. For this reason I think it rather more likely to still see Neřež around in a few years rather than the Bůhví we saw perform on Thursday evening at the Lucerna.

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