What on earth is Elvana? A drunk fantasy of Kurt Cobain and Elvis having a baby? Close, but no. Elvana is a Nirvana tribute band, fronted by an unlikely Elvis. Many outraged commentators have responded, “Kurt Cobain would be rolling in his grave!” and “You don’t even look like Elvis!”– but frontman Paul doesn't take himself too seriously, and doesn't aspire to be a botoxed reincarnation like fellow Elvis impersonators. For every puritanical outcry, the band gets more exposure, and those who are curious enough to come and see how it works are well rewarded: the performances are impressive and mix comedy with a true love for Nirvana.
The advantage of this unexpected mashup is that unlike other tribute bands there is no discomfort, no sense of grief or overbearing nostalgia – instead, the atmosphere is light, and the intensity of Nirvana is given free reign without any bad aftertaste. The band has found that the silliness and extravagance of brightly coloured Elvis jumpsuits are a perfect antidote, allowing the audience the sheer joy of listening to beloved songs by these iconic artists. The band met at school in Newcastle, where their set-list was almost entirely Nirvana, before trying to make it as an original act.
Having a “Danny Cobain”, a “Bobby Grohl” and “Bass Guy” playing Nirvana in shiny blue tuxedos alongside The King definitely has an eccentric feel to it. However, it makes for surprisingly awesome entertainment: The King rocks out in 4 different suits (turquoise, white, pink and red) with added puns, and matching dad dance moves. He regularly comes into the audience, while the backing vocalists, twins Stephanie and Charlie, swing their arms to the beat in glittering green dresses.
The Elvis and Nirvana songs transition and bleed into one another, with Heartbreak Hotel on the same set-list as Heart-shaped Box. The dialogue is superb, but definitely heavier on the Nirvana side, with a peppering of Elvis. The show ends with a fake, half-baked beauty pageant with a pinch of cross-dressing (also known as the 'Miss Elvana’ content’), which makes for a nice twist.
The only caveat would be that the show could have benefitted from better sound engineering, with backing vocals that were often too faint to be of real value. This became all the more clear when the backing singers, Talk Like Tigers, finally came forward to sing one of their own songs. Their electro pop vibe sharply contrasted with the opening act's camden, grunge style, and their original song made their prowess clear. The opening act, Hands Off Gretel, also successfully warmed up the crowd, especially with their energetic performance of Milk.
The show is made possible by an understanding manager, and very understanding wives and kids. When Paul’s kids ask questions like “what's daddy doing?” his wife will usually say “He's doing daddy Elvis this weekend”. Paul's mother, after having instilled a passion for Elvis in him at a young age, now washes his costumes. The band members also all have day jobs (one of them is a town planner), and admire bands who manage to make it without.
When asked what they would call themselves, they say they don't like the term “novelty tribute band”, because the novelty of it is not the only reason people come to the show. Since their Glastonbury and Download gigs, more and more people keep coming back for more, so the original idea is not the only thing that gets tickets to sell.
After their successful tours of the U.S.A and Scandinavia, what does the band aspire to next? Vegas.
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