This was a chance for me to discover two bands the old-fashioned way, of going to see them live without having heard more than one song by the headliners, whose PR had invited me and the Fab Girlfriend along to the gig, by these two Balkan bands at the legendary 100 club. Thanks to Dan and Sarah for the help with the setlists.
We got in just before ShunTA! Came onstage, for this show they were playing as a 9 piece band, although the bands set started with the singer Sarah playing a Klezmer style violin solo that reminded me of Lajos Sarkozi's playing of Hungarian Gypsy songs, as it led into Ya Rayah as Sarah started to sing her microphone wasn't working so I was close enough to the front to signal to her and it was soon sorted out as the band cooked up an impressive Rebetika flavored stew that seemed to be led by the mandolin player.
The rhythms were mesmerizing as Eastern Arabic jazz flavor of Siki Siki Ibrahim started to get some of the crowd dancing along, it was hard to stand still as this song reminded me a lot of Eric Random & The Bedlamites Cherish. Kelushka was a great stirring gypsy dance as the Tuba player was providing most of the bass Rhythms set against the fleet drumming with the super stern looking keyboards player playing repeating motifs.
Usti Baba had some Romanian gypsy dance moves going on, that didn't let up, as by this point Sarah had let us know that they had the Queen of the Renees on Darbukar, as I realised they had Karen Yarnell from The Gymslips, whose legendary Rocking With the Renees I reviewed last year when Optic Nerve re-issued. It was good to see she still had on Doc Martens; The special edition that has a tambourine attached to the boot obviously.
Mugur Mugurel sounded perfect for some belly dancing as the rhythms wouldn't let up, it seemed a bit frantic in places but had some great interplay between the Trumpet, clarinet and Sax players.
Zvonija was the one tune I'm pretty certain I've heard played before, being the sort of tune, we'd expect to hear live at say Deryn's bistro in Budapest or similar classic restaurants on holiday, that have roving musicians in them, this was played as a party anthem to get everyone singing and dancing along to it.
They closed with Cherno More that could easily have been the soundtrack for being stuck up Rila Mountain struggling to find our way back down again, or just the music to hear while eating in Serdica it was a great end to a very enjoyable set.
After the break it was time for Kultur Shock who shouldn't be mistaken for Culture Shock who are the band with this name I usually see live, or with Kultureshock the Crust punk band from Myanmar. This Kultur Shock have been together for 27 years and are based in San Diego.
Knowing that Kultur Shock's leader Gino Srdjan Yevdjevich is originally from Sarajevo I thought this gig might remind me of going to see Bayegar (Sp?) playing a stop the war gig in London at the height of the Balkan conflict, well thankfully this show had none of the cheesy keyboards or heavy just back from the war zone vibes of that night, also Kultur Shock are a lot more fun.
The set opened with Zumbal that had a stonking clarinet solo from Amy Denio that fought it out with Eleni Govetas violin for supremacy as the heavy Balkan riffing added layers of power. Tammi Vilajet saw Amy switch to Saxophone while Val Kiossovski attacked his guitar as if he wanted to be playing some Sabaton style Battle metal but with a good bit of Balkan edge to it.
King was the first song with any English lyrics as Eleni's violin seemed to almost be the lead instrument as Gino bellowed out the vocals like a more deranged Serj Tankian with a far longer beard too. Tutti Frutti gave me some odd childhood flashbacks to eating Tutti Frutti Ice cream at the Spaghetti House just before the infamous siege took place, although I'm sure we went to the Goodge Street one, not the Knightsbridge branch, still this tune was not siege like at all, being far more upbeat and great fun.
Build the Wall was obviously written for anyone who thinks a wall can stop people migrating and moving around the world, the idiots, the song had some shout outs to Zinedine Zidane with all sorts of questions as to how the wall would help, as Guy Michael Davis crushed out the heavy Bass riff like he wanted to be in Pennywise.
Istanbul featured the bands own version of the Yalla Chant that Transglobal Underground first brought to prominence here, only this was a lot heavier with Eleni's violin really letting rip, as Amy's sax attacked our ears it was very powerful and most of the audience were singing and or dancing along, it was impossible to stand still that's for sure.
God I Busy, May I Help You? Had some good questioning as to why you would still believe in God considering everything that's been done in his name, it also featured Gino playing a totally blasting atonal trumpet solo. Racist Song made clear that Kultur Shock are all inclusive and have no time for any of that stupidity.
GG Likes Be Nice is clearly not about GG Allin as it's far too much fun and light. Taiyou had a frantic fraught edge to it as Chris Stromquists powerhouse drumming nailed things down for Eleni's violin to battle against Amy's Saxophone.
Sheitan was introduced as being the bands Japanese song, I assume some of the lyrics were in Japanese, that was followed by Duna that saw Amy switch back to the Clarinet as the intensity seem to rise. I think Nadjia was the song about a castle that seemed to have a few Kafkaesque twists to it musically.
Horse Thief may not have mentioned Shergar or the idiots who stole that horse, but I'm sure was about that sort of Horse and not the sort you shoot up with. They closed with Sarajevo a bittersweet song for that most destroyed of cities that has now re-built itself since the Balkan Conflict.
The crowd went utterly nuts for an encore and soon enough Kultur Shock were back as Gino announced they would start the encore by playing two new songs the first of which Tomorrow Is Better Day had repeating lyrics stating that he was going to quit drugs but not today, spoken and sung like a true druggy, this was great fun, like almost everything else they played.
Snijeg was introduced as being that we are living in a dangerous time to be quiet, we all need to speak out to stop the madness our politicians are perpetrating allegedly in our name. Country was a song for anyone who was born far away, or whose family came from far away to make a better life somewhere safer. They closed the night by rampaging through Da Je that allowed the crowd to go nuts once more as they brought the set to a close and left the stage to huge cheers.