Concert Hall, February 16
In the strange case of the incredible shrinking band Goran Bregovic’s 2008 Wedding and Funeral Orchestra comprised 37 people. Two years ago it was down to 19, and now to nine. In pessimistic mathematical terms the brilliant Serb may be leading no more than a quartet next time around. A happier way to look at it is that this was the 4am version, when the choir members and string players have slunk off to bed, and the gloves come off.
The absence of the choir and strings obviously eliminated some repertoire and narrowed the music’s scope. But ultimately the beating heart of Bregovic’s music was always what was left: five gypsy horn players, two Bulgarian female singers (who were like two serene dolls in a toyshop run amok), Muharem Redzepi on vocals and bass drum and the man himself on occasional guitar, occasional vocals, occasional conducting and permanent smiles.
Without the extra sonic flesh the dubious use of recorded bass and drum tracks became much more prominent, and herein lay a flaw that had not beset the previous shows. Then we’d had a crowded stage and near perfect sound, and now the band had shrunk and yet the sound was often rubbish. The bass, pushed to dance-club distortion levels, muddied everything else, most critically Bregovic’s own singing, which surely should have been a greater priority than sampled mindless thumping.
But such is his charm that you forgive almost anything. His composing is touched by genius and he sits in the midst of his braying brass band radiating benevolence like a freshly opened bottle of champagne. Even when his voice was swamped his charisma was its own amplifier.
Some songs, such as the beautiful Aven Ivenda and the trademark In the Death Car eschewed the fake rhythm section and instantly the sound improved. Redzepi’s singing was always primal and energised, with Usti Babo a highlight, and many dance numbers had the Concert’s Hall’s floor pulsing, not just with subsonic vibrations, but with an elated capacity crowd.