Elvana, Skull, Manchester O2 Ritz, 13/10/18

While tribute acts aren’t a regular here on Sounds From Nowhere, at the request of writer Liam Moody, we had to have him hit the Ritz on a Saturday night to witness one of the wildest tributes out there.

Elvana is a Nirvana tribute band, fronted by Elvis Presley. They formed following an incident involving time-travel where three grunge fans in 2014 overshot their destination and landed in 1954, rather than 1994. There they met up with the future King Of Rock & Roll, introduced him to alternative rock, and away they went.

…I have no follow-up to add to this statement. Nothing. The very idea of this band is so completely ludicrous that it defies any attempt at explanation or justification. Out of the theoretic ridiculous comes the practical sublime- from “the bowels of Disgraceland” to a capacity Saturday night Ritz, the band’s concept is pretty simple: a mashup between one of alternative rock’s most beloved bands and one of pop music’s most iconic figures, both visually and aurally, has led to Elvana becoming increasingly in-demand, with sold-out shows throughout the tour and moving to ever-larger venues.

The support band of the night is Leeds quartet Skull, who start the party with driving, monolithic riffs from their debut album Thoughts Of The Others, which are less grunge, more desert rock, which was roughly contemporary (grunge emanating from the Pacific Northwest, desert rock a few hundred miles south in California). ‘Heavy’ in the traditional sense of the word, filtering through the likes of Black Sabbath and The MC5 and blazing the result out into the sweatbox environment that the Ritz had rapidly become, Skull fire through their set with carefree abandon, tight but able to fire off into incendiary guitar solos while still locked into swampy, thick grooves which coil menacingly over hard-hitting beats and bluesy howls. Skull are a fast-rising outfit who have taken the opportunity they have been given here, a chance to win over a sold-out, receptive crowd- and running with it as far as possible.

Deep red lights on stage as Elvana strike up a sleazy 12-bar blues riff: If you’re looking for trouble, you came to the right place… Appearing in resplendent red jumpsuit with matching cape, long black hair and sunglasses, this is a version of The King in full Rock And Roll Decadence, manic and unhinged but infinitely charismatic, swaggering his way across the stage, punctuating lyrics with well-timed crotch thrusts and conducting mass singalongs as the band smash their way through a Nirvana greatest hits set, punctuated by the occasional snippet of a classic Elvis number as well as a handful of the grunge icon’s rarities, “Love Buzz“, Vaselines cover “Molly’s Lips” and the unreleased hidden treasure “You Know You’re Right“. The band are clearly having a ball backing the Cobain-ified Elvis Aaron Presley, with the three members bedecked in crushed velvet suits and augmented by a pair of blonde backing singers allowing for a scuzzy take on an early 1970s Las Vegas revue, a Clarence Worley fever dream.

“There’s times where I sound like I’m Nicholas Cage. There’s other times where I sound more like Matthew McConaughey- alright alright alright…but there’s times where I’m gonna be sounding like The King, and a lotta times where I’m gonna sound like Kurt Cobain“- this might an effect of the time travel that has allowed Elvana to have their frontman alive and well in the 21st century at the peak of his powers, shaking and shimmying his way across the stage, peppering songs with kung-fu movements following a quick costume change and interlude (the aforementioned “Molly’s Lips” played just by the backing band) that allows an appearance of the incredibly famous white jumpsuit with rhinestone eagle design. Presley has the sold-out crowd in the palm of his hand as he leaves the stage to haul himself onto the security barrier for a intimate interaction with his audience, his appeal just as strong now- if perhaps a little more seedy and surly- than in his Ed Sullivan show days. In terms of content, the set list is far more Nirvana-based, with only teases and snippets of Elvis‘ material surfacing mid-song, or as an intro or outro.

However, it is almost ridiculous in the way that it works- “Viva Las Vegas” breaking out of “Breed“, a quick verse of “In The Ghetto” turning up in the midsection of “School“, and an attempt at a crowd singalong of “Jailhouse Rock” before the band lurch into “Lithium“, which extended out seemingly forever, with bassist Captain Doom, AKA “Bass Guy” forced to cycle the bass riff over and over, to the sadistic delight of band and audience alike, the latter spending the entire show in seeming euphoria, singing and screaming along to every word, jumping around and looking to be having an amazing, if slightly surreal, time.

Another quick break brought out a special guest The Courtneys, who are absolutely not the backing band wearing dresses and wigs a la the music video for “In Bloom“, who fire through a fantastic version of Hole‘s “Celebrity Skin“, as Elvis reappears stood in the crowd, now dressed in a pink suit covered with hearts and matching pink glasses (Kurt Cobain dressed as Elvis dressed as Bret Hart?) for a mass singalong of “Can’t Help Falling In Love“, segueing straight into “Heart-Shaped Box“. From here, the big guns came out- “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (with a raunchy version of “A Little Less Conversation” to open), “Come As You Are“, “All Apologies” and finally, a full electric version of “The Man Who Sold The World“: “What you’re gonna get now is a guy from Newcastle playing Elvis Presley, playing Kurt Cobain, playing David Bowie“- again, this is most likely an effect of time travel on the mind of The King. As said, this night was completely ludicrous, but something that needs to be experienced, something that needs to be seen to be believed. Amazing.

Words and photography by Liam Moody.

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