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Brave Combo's polka-rock has sound Tampa connections

They have won a Grammy, played at David Byrne's wedding and appeared, in cartoon form, on The Simpsons. They're also doing the music for a new sitcom based on the NPR show Car Talk.

But what gets the members of Brave Combo really excited is that pretty soon they'll be in Tampa.

"Tampa's like an oasis for us," said Carl Finch, who founded the group in Denton, Texas, in 1979. "WMNF's been wonderful to us. Whenever we play there, the audiences are great. Everywhere we go in the country, we run into people who know us from Heatwave or Skipper's."

The band plays the Tropical Heatwave Warmup Party on Friday at Skipper's Smokehouse, and then Saturday at 8:20 p.m. at the Cuban Club band shell.

Brave Combo has become one of the most popular bands at Heatwave over the years, thanks to rollicking dance music that blends serious polka with a garage-band attitude, and to joyous concert experiences that have hundreds of strangers joining in for the Chicken Dance.

The polka-rock connection isn't as tenuous as one might think, Finch said. In fact, he traces his interest in polka to the Beatles' She's a Woman. Even as a kid, Finch noticed the similarity between the heavy backbeat of that song and the rhythms of the Sir Douglas Quintet, who were heavily influenced by Mexican polka.

"When we started the band, we said, 'Polka music's really cool, and no one is playing it like a rock band,' "

Finch said. "Of course, when we started playing around the country, we realized that a lot of people were doing exactly that."

But Brave Combo became the standard-bearer for polka-rock, and even gained the respect of polka traditionalists. Their Grammy Award was for best polka album, Polkasonic (1999), and their latest album, Polka's Revenge (2007), was nominated in that same category.

Still, Tampa audiences, for some reason, are way ahead of much of the country on the Brave Combo curve. The band would love to play here more often, but geography makes it impractical.

"It's just a long way to go," Finch said. "Maybe if we had a few places along the way where we could get gigs, we could play there more often. But as it stands we can only come there when we're invited for major events like Heatwave."

. IF YOU GO

Brave Combo

Performs at Heatwave, 8:20 p.m. Saturday at the Cuban Club band shell, plus 7 p.m. Friday at Skipper's Smokehouse, 710 Skipper Road, Tampa. $15 advance; $20 at the door.

Brave Combo's polka-rock has sound Tampa connections 05/14/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 10:05am]
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