Thursday, 2 February 2012

emir kusturica & the no smoking orchestra @ royal concert hall, 29th january

A raucous troupe of misfit musicians specialising in frenzied polkas, gypsy-punk, “vulgar jazz” and such like, playing to an all-seated venue staffed by itchy wardens clamping down on unauthorised dancing: not, it’s fair to say, a match made in heaven. “If we continue to be so happy, he says they will stop the concert” grumbles Emir Kusturica, drily undermining security’s efforts to kettle front-of-stage carousers into the corners.

Tonight’s set draws from Kusturica’s twin careers as filmmaker and guitarist in one manifestation of The No Smoking Orchestra: cuts from the Black Cat White Cat soundtrack are amongst the former, while “the song that everybody knows in Europe – well, Eastern Europe”, Unza Unza Time, is one of many highlights in the latter. But tonight is memorable for more than just its music.

As hapless guards round up stragglers, the band spirits the crowd onstage to dance instead, an anti-authoritarian gesture that raises cheers. A conga-line snakes round the back of the stalls; a paper plane glides in from the monitored dance-pens; cheery revellers join hands and encircle a stationary, stony-faced steward: it’s as if a teacher has momentarily abandoned a classroom of children, and returned to a wild rumpus.

All we need is for a flock of geese to be bothered into the fray, and it would really start to resemble the playful chaos of Kusturica’s movies. By the time violinist Dejan Sparavalo plays his instrument with a twelve-foot bow, the evening has cemented itself as a joyfully ludicrous, if ludicrously mis-situated, triumph.

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