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music

the Plastic People of the Universe

THE SCENE IS RIGHT out of a dialectical fairy tale: a band that once upon a time became a subterranean legend, an avatar of freedom and refusal, reunites to record a live album. The group reaches back almost a quarter century into its repertoire to dredge up the now-quaint signature tune “Waiting for the Man.” Only this isn’t the Velvet Underground finally paying a call on a stadium-full of adoring fans somewhere in Europa, but a much more obscure and mysterious outfit that sprang from such fandom itself in the waning days of 1968: the Plastic People of the Universe.

Born in the wake of the East-bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia—Soviet tanks in the streets on a mission of “normalization,” rolling over the socialist reforms of the Prague Spring—the Plastic People were as much a secret society as a band. Keeping alive a forbidden language of disorder inspired by smuggled-in Western music (the

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