HOPING EVERYONE HEARS Kino Proby.
Tribute bands are usually considered blights, godsends, or novelties of dubious value. Most acts that reach any level of success rely on gimmicks to court the originals' legions of fans (such as the Iron Maidens, an all-female tribute to the British heavy-metal band, or MiniKiss, made up entirely of little people — we're not kidding). They need a hook to separate them from the thousands of cover bands playing America's bars and nightclubs.
One Portland band needs no such gimmick: Kino Proby are three New Englanders who honor the legendary (though little-known Stateside) Russian rock band Kino. Taking their name from the Russian word for "cinema," the band formed in 1981 in Leningrad, in the Soviet Union (it's now St. Petersburg, Russia). With singer and songwriter Viktor Tsoy at the helm, Kino crossed social and political boundaries with songs about the beauty and heartbreak of everyday life.
Though the band ended when Tsoy was killed in a 1990 car accident, their music is still a dominant force in Russian culture. "[They are] still one of the most popular Russian bands. Kino in Russia is like the Beatles," says Margarita Ofiyeva, a Kazakhstan-born ethnic Russian who now lives in Portland. Russian bands and fans of all stripes still gather at festivals to celebrate their fallen hero. It was at one such show in 2000 that the seeds which would grow into Kino Proby were planted.
Guitarist/vocalist Adam "Viktor II" Kurtz remembers: "Jarlath [McGuckin, a/k/a bassist/vocalist Viktor I] and I were studying Russian and did a semester abroad in Russia. We became friends over there, and we went to a concert called 'Kino Proby' ['proby' has no direct English equivalent, but loosely translates as 'attempt']. It was all the big bands at the time playing Kino songs. I got an MP3 CD that had every Kino album on one disc, which back then was a novelty. 'Wow, ten albums on one CD?' I couldn't listen to it while I was in Russia, so it wasn't until I got home that I started listening to Kino and loved it." After graduation, the two parted ways. They didn't see each other again until Kurtz moved to Portland in the fall of 2004. "He was my only friend when I moved here, and after Bush won the election, we were pissed off and said, 'What this town needs is a Kino tribute band!' All we wanted to do was learn some Kino songs and play open mics at Granny's Burritos and Acoustic Coffee. We performed our first show at Granny's on December 5, 2004."
Word spread quickly. "I heard about them from a friend," says Ofiyeva, "who told me about these American guys playing Kino's songs at Granny's. I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I heard them play, I was very impressed with their Russian and how well they performed!" They soon recruited friend Jess Greer to play drums, christened him "Viktor III," and ditched the all-acoustic format in favor of a full-on rock band experience.