Judging by the relatively small crowd that had gathered to see Brave Combo play once they’d ambled onstage just after 8:30 p.m. on a Thursday, it appeared nobody was prepared for what was to come. Even those advertising its appearance weeks in advance stumbled on their words, describing the Denton, Texas-based band as one which played “world-wise, unclassifiable music”. Perhaps the marketing department didn’t think those in Utah would come out in droves if they knew what Brave Combo really was: an honest-to-God rock ‘n’ roll polka band.
It’s a band that peppered its performance with proclamations that “It’s polka time!” while machines spit out Lawrence Welk bubbles above the heads of the crowd. It won its share of shouted approval when lead singer/guitarist Carl Finch raised the accordion above his head like a Samurai warrior. It’s a band as comfortable with playing “Hava Nagila” as the crowd did The Twist as it was covering a note-for-note rendition of “La Bamba”.
21 Jun 2001: Utah Arts Festival, Utah State Fairpark Salt Lake City, Utah
Maybe it’s not fair to pin the polka label on them, though, for Frankie Yankovic they ain’t. Polka for a new generation? Perhaps.
Once the band really got going, the crowd was attracted to the stage like mosquitoes to a blue-glowing bug lamp. Maybe they were in awe of the overweight flute player who could pass for Jerry Garcia and danced like a light-on-his-feet ballerina. Could have been bassist Bubba Hernandez, in high top sneakers and a purple sequined vest. It might of even been the tattooed percussionist wearing a Krispy Kreme hat or Finch, who saw fit to bang his head to nearly every tune the Combo did, playing guitar solos that would make Warrant proud.
Eye candy that the band members were, it was the music that drew the crowd in. It was the reason you couldn’t get through the thick gathering near the front of the stage, dancing To Perez Prado’s “Mambo Jambo”, an instrumental “Sway”, and a slowed-down “Louie Louie”, among others.
The high point of the night, however, was not the speedy rendition of “Hosa Dyna”. Where it all came together, where more were on their feet and shaking their right feet “all about”, had to have been during its rock version of the “Hokey Pokey”. Still, others might argue it was “The Chicken Dance” that got them out of their chairs.
But, when all was said and done, the encore was short-lived at best. Per the city’s regulations, Brave Combo had to pack up at 10 p.m., an hour when most live bands are just barely hitting their peaks. At a short hour and a half set, though, at least this band left on a high note.
// Notes from the Road
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