St. Petersburg, Russia:
After a rushed trip in Moscow, I was finally starting to get a little used to the time difference and noticed that I usually hit my stride around midnight Russia time (4pm NYC time). Suddenly, in Russia, I was a night owl, cool!
St. Petersburg was very different from Moscow and while it is certainly a big city complete with crippling traffic jams in it’s own right, somehow it felt more manageable to me than Moscow.
I had been told by my good buddy Paul from legendary psychobilly band The Quakes who’ve toured in Russia that the place to take in some good rockabilly and psychobilly shows in St. Petersburg was the famous “Money Honey” Club.
I arrived on a Sunday and was in luck as the local rockabilly band “The Barbulators” were scheduled to play a show there that night at 12 midnight or AKA “my stridetime”.
The Money Honey bar is set back off the street in a big alleyway that looks like a great place to film a western movie, with old balconied storefronts and homes that would have looked at home in the American midwest in the late 1800s. It looks like the kind of place that is full of local shoppers during the day, but at night, The Money Honey Club is the only sign of life.
The Money Honey Club is huge and features all kinds of live music but it’s roots is rockabilly (it says so right on the sign) and thankfully it’s never strayed far from it’s roots.
I was to meet the Barbulators at the Money Honey Club at 11 PM for a quick interview before their gig at midnight.
Being this late on a Sunday night, as I arrived the club was emptying out from an “Anime” gathering as I saw these goth looking girls and guys streaming out of the club.
Turns out the Money Honey has several rooms with different types of music, some electronica, some Russian pop, a sports bar but thankfully the main room was dedicated to live and often rockabilly music.
The Barbulators have been around for over 15 years and are that rare band in Russia that plays music full time as their vocation, sometimes playing 6 or 7 nights a week, with multiple gigs per day.
They have actually opened for the Quakes when they came through town and they told me that Paul, the lead singer of the Quakes, had been electrocuted by the microphone when performing at Money Honey a few years back! Evidently this is a common occurrence. So that’s how psychobilly began huh? Rockabilly mixed with electricity… you heard it hear first! According to the Barbulators, this little electric shock helps them hit the high notes.
As you know by now, my Russian language skills consist of “Da” (yes), Nyet (No) and Spasibo (Thank You). The Barbulators English was much better but we still had a slight communication problem when I first arrived. Luckily, Sergi, from a surf band called “Freddie and the Drillers” agreed to come out and act as translator for me.
Turns out Sergi is a guitar afficiando and was going to sit in play a song or two with the guys as well.
The Barbulators brought along a bottle of Ukrainian red wine that made the interview much more relaxed and casual and I think it may have been the best wine I’ve ever had. If I could figure out a way to import that stuff, I would make a killing.
We had a great interview that ranged from everything about the fact that the guys don’t think Russians consider a musician a serious profession, to the guys having to mix it up and fight occasionally with obnoxious audience members who don’t understand rockabilly music, to the rebel flags hanging in the club (similar to The Grease Club in Moscow). Two of the guys in the Barbulators are Jewish and they didn’t consider the flag anything other than decoration.
We also discussed briefly Yegor Letov and Yanka Dyagileva as the father and mother of punk music in Russia but these guys being a rockabilly band, considered “Elvis Presley”, “Johnny Cash” and the early American rock n roll musicians a bigger influence. They also mentioned “Screaming Jay Hawkins”, “Rob Zombie” and “Tom Waits” as influences.
After the interview the guys went on stage to earn their money. They opened with a set of covers, including a version of the 80s Norwegian band “A-Ha” and their big song “Take On Me”, which I thought appropriate as I had seen posters plastered all over town that these guys were coming to St. Petersburg.
The next set was sprinkled with some originals and I’ve included some video of one of there performances from the 2nd below. They channeled Johnny Cash frequently throughout their sets which, after our interview, didn’t surprise me.
The guys were set to play until 4am, well past my stride, so after a few songs, I waved goodbye to the guys and Sergi on stage and wandered off in the frigid St. Petersburg night back to my hotel.
I couldn’t tell if I was still buzzed from the sweet Ukrainian wine or from the warmth the guys and the Money Honey club had shown this aspiring American filmmaker who days before had only met them via a myspace email exchange.
Either way, this was shaping up to be good trip already.