The Petrojvic Blasting Company: Coming soon to a sidewalk near you

Los Angeles Times | Pop & Hiss, March 17th, 2010

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The best pieces from last Thursday’s Downtown L.A. Art Walk weren’t to be found hanging on the walls of an overpriced gallery, but instead came warbling out of the mouths and instruments of the Petrojvic Blasting Company, a ragtag crew of modern-day gypsy street buskers. Their rousing mélange of New Orleans Dixie and Balkan folk music takes high-steppin’ swing, spins it through a blender of pre-World War II love songs, and dips it in some old-world melancholy -- think Tom Waits via Louis Armstrong with a detour by way of Belgrade. Eyes closed, the go-to image is of a bunch of tired old men with miles beneath their feet and sad stories on tap -- the kind of fellows who’ve seen it all before, and weren’t impressed the first time.

This makes it all the more delicious that these lads look 25 if a day, all of them fresh-faced and crush-worthy. More than one sidewalk fan could be overheard referring to “the cute one,” each time a different band member. Groupies be warned: In true bohemian artist fashion, the six core band members share a studio apartment, run their business affairs from a rotating group of WiFi-enabled coffee shops, and tend to roam as a pack. “When you date one of us, you pretty much enter a relationship with the entire band,” said tuba player Brandon Armstrong.

Helmed by brothers Justin and Josh Petrojvic, the band also goes by just “the Blasting Company” because so few can pronounce their last name (PEH-tro-vich). The brothers hail from “pretty much all over,” and first started things up in Tennessee five years ago as Albania Mania, which gradually morphed into the Blasting Company’s current incarnation here in L.A. The line-up ranges from six to 10 members, loosely called the “small band” or the “big band,” depending on their mood. “When people hire us, they don’t always know which band they’re getting,” said Josh Petrojvic, who plays accordion.

Practice is often a case of staking out a slice of sidewalk and just playing. “We like to practice that way because it’s nice outside, we can be louder, and that’s how we earn our lunch money,” Armstrong said. In fact, despite steady gigs at Gorbals and Bar 107, the band prefers it outside. “You make your own schedule, and the amount of money you earn is directly proportional to how well you’re playing,” Josh said.

Based on the size of Thursday’s crowd, it’s easy to see why the Blasting Company likes it out on the street. The audience was so enthusiastic that when the cops rolled up and shut things down over concerns for public safety, the entire block booed. There were similarly passionate cheers when the police came back a bit later to invite the band back to 4th Street after shutting down the entire block for general Art Walk crowd control. “Most people playing don’t attract that kind of a crowd, but they were an absolutely amazing band,” said LAPD Sgt. Kris Werner, who was on duty that night. “It’s probably my first time coming across street musicians who were so popular.”

You can get an earful of the boys (and the ladies who comprise the rest of the “big band”) on St. Paddy’s Day, when they’ll be playing all afternoon at Bar 107 and then later on at Spaceland. Failing that, the Blasting Company can be found most Thursday and Sunday nights at the Alexandria Hotel’s Gorbals Restaurant and Bar 107, respectively, Sunday afternoons at the Hollywood Farmers' Market, and of course, outside.

-- Melissa Henderson

The Petrojvic Blasting Company: March 17 at Bar 107, 107 4th St., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Also performing at Spaceland, 1717 Silverlake Blvd., $5. 10 p.m.

Photo: Marcello Ambriz; Video: Ewa Mularczyk