Let me just get this out of the way right up front. Mikelangelo has great hair. I’m not sure what the Balkan Elvis uses, Serbia-rylcreem perhaps. Never the less his hair is greasy enough to stay in position but loose enough to need sporadic comb attention. I wish I could quiff like that.
Eastern Bloc Rock is an opportunity to hear a bunch of Elvis Presley songs, performed by a terrific singer and Eastern European flavoured band. There is a circular narrative about growing up in the Soviet Union loving Elvis in a regime were his records were banned by the State, and about a young Johnny Presley, setting out to seek fame and fortune and look for love. It’s a cool premise and a point of difference to the many other Elvis Presley tribute shows that pop up on a regular basis. Mikelangelo isn’t a tribute show as such, he is not trying to sell himself as Elvis, it’s Johnny’s story using Elvis’s music. He is a talented chap and has a great voice (and hair).
One of the best things about this show is the choice of songs. Instead of the bog standard greatest hits (although there is certainly some of those present) tonight we get songs like Surrender, King Creole, Follow That Dream and His Latest Flame. They loosely help with the narrative. Certainly when he sings Suspicious Minds while talking about the culture of turning in relatives to the State it’s perfect. In The Ghetto is a brilliant song and I don’t think I have ever seen another Elvis act attempt it before. About half way through there is a shift in changing lyrics to more Soviet context, Viva DuBrovnik, Red Suede Shoes. It’s funny stuff but it did feel like there should have been either more of that throughout, or none at all (preferably the former).
During Viva DuBrovnik the five piece outfit is joined by four Balkan belly dancers who twirl and sashay much to the delight of the audience. A stripped back If I Can Dream and Love Me Tender, spotlight Michaelangelo’s impressive voice. A voice that is occasionally lost in the on-stage volume of the band, something I have noticed at a few of the noisier shows this Cab Fest, that would be easily avoided with some of those perspex baffles.
The Edge of Reality was a huge song in Elvis cannon in Australia. It was the b-side of If I Can Dream and was part of the soundtrack of the 1968 movie Live a Little Love a Little. The movie did badly in America, wasn’t released in the UK and only had four songs in it. In Australia however the movie was often shown on Saturday afternoon TV and some genius on a music TV show realised they could play Edge of Reality from the movie, like a video clip because they had the broadcast rights. In a time when there was no YouTube or Vevo, and Presley never toured here, Edge of Reality became the only ‘video’ we ever got to see in this country and has earned a special place in people’s hearts. The version tonight is terrific. Mikelangelo misses a bit of his narrative story, but good nature tells us that ‘you are smart people you can put that together yourselves’, which is pretty funny.
The biggest surprise song-wise comes in the shape of Get Back Home Somehow from the 1962 Pot Luck album. Fantastic song and one I have never heard any other Presley act attempt.
The show closes with Burning Love and sees our Balkan Elvis out in the audience getting people up to dance with him, the belly dancers return and everybody leaves with a smile on their dial.
Cabaret Festival By Ian Bell