The seats have been taken out, several languages can be heard and beer is swilling for two of the best gypsy groups on the planet as they set about hijacking East London’s stunning Hackney Empire.
Due to a family emergency, Boban Markovic is a no-show. But rather than cancel the orchestra’s appearance, his son Marko leads instead and apologises for his father’s absence. Markovic the elder has received acclaim worldwide during their 17 years together, so there are naturally early pangs of dissatisfaction. But this quickly evaporates as the 10-piece band, made up of percussion, double bass (five of them!) and violins send the audience into frenzy; it’s by far one of the most enthusiastic reactions this reviewer has witnessed.
Marko appears humbled as he introduces his bandmates and pays tribute to his absent father, in-between the hysterical clapping and jumping from the punters. When a member of the brass band takes over vocal duties to reveal a stunning and heartfelt delivery, it only cements the triumph. Despite the set lasting well over an hour, there are still screams for an encore as the band take a bow.
Previous experiences of Taraf de Haïdouks have included a life affirming set at the Mike Patton and Melvins-curated ATP, which ended with band members crowdsurfing and the then 15-strong troupe marching through the back of a Butlins nightclub. It’s not so much that those heights were expected to be surpassed, but tonight feels like a different band. Much more serious, restrained and almost stiff, the Romanian gents ground an audience that had previously been throwing their pint glasses in the air with gay abandon.
Not that any magic is lost musically; there’s still layer upon layer of flute, violin, clarinet and much else besides. The repetitive bass lines in the faster songs are lacking and the slow drudgery of the latter numbers fails to gel – with the thinning crowd numbers it may be a general consensus that perhaps Markovic the elder was the would-have-been star of the evening.
Almost admitting defeat, the show ends prematurely too, 15 minutes earlier than planned. A shame, but given their last performance, tonight is surely an abberation; Romania’s finest can be expected to return firing on all cylinders next time.