The Czars Were Brightly Shining

Invincible Czars
Invincible Czars (Photo by John Anderson)

Once you learn that the band's aesthetic approach to songs is to imagine them as mini symphonies, it makes sense that the Invincible Czars would at some point turn their attention to a classical suite by Tchaikovsky. It's when you also discover that their musical influences include not only Igor Stravinsky but also Van Halen, the Melvins, and Ween that you realize their interpretation is not likely to be that of a friendly neighborhood chamber ensemble. Indeed, The Nutcracker Suite, as reconceived by the Austin rockers, is an amply electrified and synthesized affair that irreverently – yet affectionately – takes Tchaikovsky's score far beyond the Land of Symphonic Romanticism into the realms of Dixie rock, lounge music, polka, heavy metal, and more, with instrumentations that include a slide whistle, a jaw harp, and burping to supplement the guitars, percussion, keyboards, and horns. And that's probably as good an explanation as any as to why this offbeat suite has been embraced so readily by Austin, with its live performances becoming an increasingly large draw over the five years that the Czars have been playing the Nutcracker. It's smart and goofy all at once; it makes you laugh, and it rocks – and Austinites are suckers for that. I mean, how can you not love it when the "Arabian Dance" (aka "Coffee") suddenly goes off the rails, first careening into hootenanny territory with a country fiddle break and a solo by a pair of air-squirting hands, then inexplicably surfacing in a stately rendition of "Joy to the World"? Or when the "Dance of the Mirlitons" – you may know it as "Marzipan" – swerves into disco, with a funky wah-wah guitar that suddenly has you imagining those candy shepherds in a cheesy Seventies porno? The enthusiastic reception led the band to self-release a CD of the suite in 2007, when it became the seventh-highest-selling holiday CD at Waterloo Records. And it's prompted collaborations with local groups from the Austin Children's Museum and Ballet Austin to Wicked Cricket Dance Theatre and the Golden Arm Trio, with more gigs outside of Austin. Already this year, the Czars have spread their Nutcracker gospel to Houston at Discovery Green and Wortham Center and San Marcos' Central Texas Medical Center. This Saturday, Dec. 12, sees the Czars rocking the Nut at Jovita's, 1619 S. First, with a kids' matinee at 3pm and a full-on rock show with the Golden Arm Trio at 9pm. For more information, visit

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