|Boris Grebenshikov, a rock songwriter from Leningrad, is about to take his chances in
the Western market. In the Soviet Union, he was the leader of Aquarium, an underground
band that played without official approval and made recordings privately to be distributed
like the samizdat press. Aquarium set Mr. Grebenshikovs imagistic lyrics to music that
laced basic three-chord rock with dissonance and eccentricity; a few Aquarium songs
reached the United States on "Red Wave," a compilation album of underground
Over the last year, Mr. Grebenshikov has been allowed to record with Western
musicians in England and the United States, and he offered a preview of his album
"Radio Silence" (scheduled for release in June) on Saturday night at the Bottom
With the help of the Eurythmics David Stewart, who produced the album and played in
the band Saturday, Mr. Grebenshikov has moved toward mainstream Anglo-American rock.
The dissonances are gone, most of the new lyrics are in English and only a few songs
use Slavic-sounding minor keys. Mr. Grebenshikovs husky voice recalls Bob Dylan, Lou
Reed and their British disciples, from David Bowie to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, along
with John Lennon. (One song, "Fields of My Love," is a near-remake of the
Beatles "All You Need Is Love.") Hes fluent in English, with only a slight
accent, and his lyrics still take free-associative leaps.
In the late set, it was easy to see the stage presence that drew Soviet listeners to
unofficial concerts. Mr. Grebenshikov sings with grit and authority; even a handful of
songs in Russian conveyed dramatic urgency across the language barrier. But his
individuality was nearly submerged by his band.
Busily dispensing its chugging, internationally negotiable rock riffs, it didnt
leave much breathing room for Mr. Grebenshikovs voice; female backup singers completed
the cover-up. Perhaps it was simply a bad sound mix and an overeager band, but the music
seemed designed to make Mr. Grebenshikov sound like one more standard-issue rocker. After
hes crossed so many barriers, now is the time to flaunt his nonconformity.