Live Music + Gig Reviews

Goran Bregovic @ Barbican, London

30 July 2009

Did you notice a slight tremor on the surface of your water glass last night?

If you did, that may well have been as a result of a sold-out Barbican Hall being uprooted from its foundations.

The cause? A rare London performance by Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra and an overexcited crowd pounding the ground with glee. Yes, that’s right: there was dancing at the Barbican.

When the Eurovision Song Contest was broadcast from Belgrade in 2008, it was Bregovic’s interval medley that Terry Wogan talked over in his usual mildly disparaging fashion ignoring the fact that Bregovic’s contribution was the most interesting thing about the event. Before that he was probably best known internationally for his contributions to the soundtracks of the films of Emir Kusturica, most notably Underground.

His current project is a pair of releases under the banner Alkohol, the first part of which, Sljivovica, takes its name from a Balkan plum brandy capable of blowing your bloody doors off and contains his more raucous, crowd-pleasing songs. The second part will be called Champagne and showcase his more musically sophisticated work.

His Orchestra consists of a string quartet; a Serbian male voice choir in ill-fitting tuxes; a pair of silk-throated Bulgarian vocalists in traditional dress; and the, by now ubiquitous, Balkan gypsy brass section. Bregovic, sits amongst them all, white-suited and beatific, looking like Jay Rayner’s better-looking Slavic brother.

The two-hour-and-a-bit set cut through much of Bregovic’s career. His Iggy Pop collaboration, In the Death Car was in there and Gas Gas cropped up particularly early in proceedings. By this point people were already out of the chairs, nimbly switching between the standard Slavic dance of imperceptible bottom wiggling (as Francis Chellifer discovered in Huxley’s Those Barren Leaves, it is possible to wag one’s hind quarters) with arms aloft and the more intricate dance of Barbican usher avoidance.

There were several slow numbers where the choir and the otherworldly voiced Bulgarian duo were allowed to dominate, and some of these were quite glorious, but it was the up-tempo stuff the crowd were really waiting for, like the Serbian drinking songs and the wonderful Mesecina, a chance to feel the Guca spirit in the heart of London, to get on one’s feet, to clap and whoop and dance – and drink (there was lots of people running back and forth from the bar). By the time Kalashnikov was played, with its bugle call and semi-ironic shout of ‘charge’, few people remained in their seats and the ushers had abandoned all hope of convincing people not to dance in the aisles.

Amazingly Bregovic managed to calm people down and (with difficulty) dissuade them from clapping along for his closing number, a soaring, richly textured piece that made full use of every element of his orchestra. He left people on a real high, one generated not just by adrenaline and alcohol but by his sheer musical exuberance and invention – a harder won, but well deserved, high.

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Goran Bregovic @ Barbican, London
Goran Bregovic @ Barbican, London