Twenty-five years is rare for any band to stay together — much less one that specializes in the micro-niche sub-genre of polka rock.
celebrate their silver anniversary tonight at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, reveling in a quarter century of oldies and parodies that have made it nothing less than one of the area’s favorite party bands.
“We’re very, very, very surprised,” says singer-guitarist Dave Uchalik, a pediatric occupational therapist by day. “I hear of other groups that disband because they want to quit before it gets pathetic. I say — who cares? Give me pathetic anytime.”
The Muslims launched on Dec. 23, 1981, at Lili’s in Hamtramck. It was originally intended as a one-off to raise money for the local band the Reruns — which included Muslims Uchalik, Ken Kondrat and Al Phife (ne Przeklas) — whose equipment had been stolen a few weeks earlier. Enlisting friends and adopting the moniker after a couple minutes of concerted thought, they cobbled together a set that included covers and Christmas carols set to rock tunes (“Deck the Halls” done to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” for instance).
The show went so well that the Muslims became a going concern, although Uchalik, who was doing double duty at the time in the Mutants, notes that “I don’t recall the exact time we said ‘We’re definitely going to keep doing this. I don’t know if we ever did.”
The group has staked its reputation on parodies, often drawing on the members’ Polish heritage. They composed “Bowling USA,” a take on the Beach Boys’ “Surfi ng USA,” “Love Polka Number Nine” (the Clovers’ “Love Potion Number Nine”), “Dance to the Polka” (Sly & the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music”) and “Let’s Golambki” (Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”).
The Muslims — who suffered only a minor backlash immediately after Sept. 11 — still play about 15 shows a year, according to Uchalik, and have released four full-length CDs and some singles and also contributed its only original composition, “That’s Why God Invented the Polka” to the nationally distributed compilation “Polka Comes to Your Haus.”
The group’s latest release, “Polk-a Fun at Christmas” includes a three-act “Yuletide Rock Opera” and such topical pieces as “Michael Jackson’s Neverland” (“Winter Wonderland”), “Bring ’em Back From Iraq” (to “Jingle Bell Rock”) and “Granholm” (“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”). “Taco Bell,” done to the tune of “Silver Bells,” was recorded before the recent E. coli incidents.
Still, Uchalik notes, “The Muslims is the one band that has a sense of humor, that isn’t afraid to make a fool of itself, as long as we’re having fun. The whole thing is so weird it’s hard to differentiate anything that’s weirder.”
These days four founding members remain in the Muslims lineup — Uchalik, Kondrat, Phife and drummer Mike Miller.
Uchalik, Kondrat and Phife also write and record original music as the Earworms. Several former members will take part in tonight’s show, as well.
“I think it’s going to be fun mostly because it’s going to bring in a lot of the people who used to see us 25 years ago — the old Lili’s crowd and the Hamtramck crowd and the new wave crowd from the ’80s,” says founding bassist Gary Plochinski, an associate creative director at the BBDO advertising agency in Troy, who left the Muslims in 1988. “It’s going to be fun to see all those people. That’ll be the show more than the band, even.”
As for whether the Muslims will be around for a 30th anniversary — or beyond — Uchalik says the group’s future is the same question mark it’s been since that first show 25 years ago.
“Honestly, except for the fact we have a few jobs booked in advance, we still don’t know when the last show is going to be,” he says. “We do it for fun. Part of what keeps it together is we continue not to look to the future of the band as much as just kinda taking it show to show.”
The Polish Muslims celebrate their 25th anniversary Friday (December 22nd) at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Stewart Francke and Honky Dory are also on the bill. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $8. Call (248) 544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com.
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