On Sunday night in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House, Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra presented a fun packed evening of all kinds of music. Impossible to categorize, the music of this weird and wacky band has been described by critics as ‘gypsy techno-rock’.
Although film director Emir Kusturica was the draw card for this one off concert in Sydney, the entire band played a pivotal role in keeping the audience engaged, and in particular the boisterous shenanigans of the lead singer Nenad Jankovic who displayed an impressive amount of energy during the two hour performance.
The orchestra was made up of a saxophone, electric guitar, piano accordion, violin, two bass guitars, drummer and an unforgettable singer who had the audience pinned to the edge of their seats or indeed up and out of their seats for the entire performance. It was refreshing indeed to witness such a relaxed and humorous show in the Concert Hall and to see Mr. Kusturica - world famous film director/bassist - appear in nothing more than a pair of blue shorts, matching t-shirt and running shoes.
The performance was extremely energetic and much of the music making was accompanied by jumping up and down or running around the stage. I was particularly amazed by Mr. Jankovic who maintained this level of activity whilst also managing to sing. Quite soon into the performance, a ladder appeared and the afore-mentioned vocalist climbed up into the boxes beside the stage to greet the audience He scaled seats with the ease of an olympic hurdler and moved from one box to the next whilst delighted audience members clapped and cheered and took photos with their mobile phones and cameras.
The evening also included some brief musical parodies of other bands including Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, but these were only intended as humorous interludes before the bands next outrageous outburst of gypsy rock and enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Several times during the evening audience members were pulled up on stage (although I suspect these people were set ups) and encouraged to dance and sing along with the band. One lucky lady was surrounded by the entire group and serenaded with a song about Romeo and Juliet. Later on three other women were recruited and without hesitation danced their hearts out as the lead singer peeled off his remaining garments – shorts aside – to reveal a rather white and not very firm belly. This was all in good fun and the audience seemed to enjoy this humorous strip-tease immensely.
The temperature continued to rise as the music and craziness reached fever pitch. At this point the lead singer decided to cool down by showering himself with a bottle of water; he also decided to shower half the audience and this no doubt came as an unexpected surprise to more than a few.
The violinist (whose name I didn’t catch) also had some special tricks up his sleeve and impressed everyone by playing the violin on his shoulders behind his head. He then balanced the bow between his mouth and that of the lead singer and played the instrument by moving it against the bow. Soon after, a huge violin bow several metres long appeared out of thin air and two audience members held it whilst the violinist moved his fiddle along the strings to create music. At first he did this standing, but then performed his trick whilst lying on the ground. The electric guitar joined in the fun and whilst the resulting sound was really quite terrible the visuals were hilarious.
Another high point worth mentioning was the supporting group the ‘Black Train Band’ whose repertoire also has links with gypsy culture. This group of musicians played impeccably, had the audience clapping and singing along in no time at all, and played with a commitment and communication between band members that was really impressive.
If I were to make a criticism of the performance it would be about the volume level. As is often the case with pop and rock concerts, the volume was so loud that the sound was sometimes distorted and the jokes and asides of band members became fuzz rather than intelligible speech.
If you missed Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra that’s a shame because this concert was a one-off. If however you have the chance to catch them some other time in some other place then go for it, but don’t forget your umbrella! This band is crazy, fresh and original and all of those admiring, clapping, dancing people on Sunday evening were proof that a good time was had by all!
Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra
Venue: Sydney Opera House
Date: 29 June 2008
Bookings: 9250 7777 | www.sydneyoperahouse.com