About a month ago in Chicago, venerable indie record label Touch & Go celebrated their 25th anniversary with a three-day music festival. On Saturday night in Madison, the label that inspired T&G had their own party at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse.
As Touch & Gogol Records only signed one band upon their inception 26 years ago -- Optometri -- it was accordingly a one-band festival. But when that band is Madison's only group of expatriate Russian rock stars, no other entertainers are necessary. Beginning (and ending) the evening with the stirring tale of the group's history, "Notes From Underground," Optometri steamrolled through a set list of the sextet's greatest Russian hits, including classics like "We Will Bury You," "My Sweet Estonia," "Mayday" and "Love is Not a Potato."
The band appeared energized by the appreciative crowd, which included most of a youth soccer team (and appreciative fan Tonya Brito), and gave it their all throughout the evening. Lead singer Yuri Mishkin was in fine voice, and the dual lead guitar work of Dmitri Shostakovich and his cousin Tim provided extra bite at just the right times. Also providing added sonic texture was the electric cello of Kratabochka, performing with Optometri for the first time. Tim Shostakovich and Kratabochka were filling in for Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov ("The laziest keyboardist on either side of the pond," says Mishkin) and Ukrainian xylophonist Svetlana Rimsky-Mussorgskakov, who missed the show after accidentally flying to Japan earlier this week.
If you're wondering why you didn't know such a famous band is living right here in Madison, it's because Optometri is in reality one of the cleverest concept bands on the local scene. Saturday's show was one of their best. Being the only band on the bill gave the group a chance to interact more than usual with the crowd and tell the "history" behind the songs, giving their set the feel of what a real anniversary show could be like.
Music usually needs more than just humor to stay afloat, and Optometri provides the goods because their songs aren't only funny, they're also catchy, solid rockers -- potato and potatoes rock 'n roll. But be warned: it's hard to tap your foot (or dance) along with the music, as the sly humor of the lyrics will probably make you laugh and lose the rhythm.