DDT: The Zeppelin Of Russia?
Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
I've been attending St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University for the past two and a half months. I saw the campus for the first time today. Instead of making the trek to the real St. Pete Tech every day, we've been shuffling our slippered feet from one side of international housing to the other. Though this is wildly convenient, considering the lack of snow and surplus of vending machines, it does strike one as straying from the normal order of things. Imagine crossing the Quad for the first time after months of living in Carney and you might have some idea of what I experienced today. I've often heard people say that Russia is backward, but I like to think of it more in the context of my attendance at SPSPU. In the end, it's just a little out of order.
I noticed the same phenomenon at a recent DDT concert. DDT and their founder Yuri Shevchuk have been compared to several American artists, including Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan. One might call them the Russian U2 – catchy and mellow with slight political undertones. Needless to say these guys are kind of a big deal. So I was slightly surprised when they opened their own concert. Unlike anything I've ever seen in the United States, about 10 minutes after we arrived 20 minutes late, Shevchuk was on stage. Talk about a premature climax. Seven songs later they'd been replaced with a rabbit holding a puppet of another rabbit and several trees with balloons. The woodland animals proceeded to perform John Lennon's "Imagine," and then hightailed it back to whatever psych ward they had escaped from. The rest of the concert consisted of five other groups performing a song or two each, mostly on the same instruments already set up on stage. The ordeal culminated in a rousing performance by Vyacheslav Butusov and his latest band, U-Piter.
The whole experience was highly entertaining, if a tad confusing. When was it going to end? Was that really all D.D.T. was playing? Did Ernest Hemingway just croon us a Russian sea shanty? Nothing was clear. Even weirder was the crowd reaction to the excitement on stage. Shevchuk was practically doing cartwheels off his stool on stage, and 96 percent of the audience had yet to tap a foot to the beat. An enthusiastic cheering section kept up the excitement in the first couple rows, but otherwise the mood was relatively sober, even if the attendees were not. Two rather unlucky fellows snuggled a couple seats down from us the entire show. If they were aware of the music blasting a mere eight rows away, they certainly didn't show it. Two hours in, one sleeping beauty made a valiant attempt to wake his companion, before resuming his $30 nap. At about the same point, I saw a woman behind me clasp her hands and mumble along to the music. I knew things must be getting good.
Whether enjoying a rock show, ballet, or symphony orchestra, Russian audiences seem to have a strange disconnect with their entertainment. Perhaps they simply experience it differently. Russians are well known for their passion in artistic circles, but the everyday audience member shows about as much emotion when presented with creative genius as they do while going through the grocery line. Nevertheless, they do love a good encore. A performance of any kind inevitably ends with incessant rhythmic clapping that might as well be a chant for more. Typically, this leads to nothing beyond an uncomfortable delay in the exit of audience and musicians alike. Nevertheless, I'll take enthusiasm in any form, and with the occasional "1812 Overture" thrown in, you'll never hear me complain.