Review: Emir Kusturica and the No Smoking Orchestra, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Emir Kusturica and the No Smoking Orchestra, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

The all-seater main auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow was a poor fit for the world’s wildest, most joyous and most unrestrained music from Emir Kusturica and the No Smoking Orchestra.

By Mark Brown

As anyone who has seen the films of Bosnian auteur Emir Kusturica knows, the director/musician and his No Smoking Orchestra make some of the world’s wildest, most joyous and most unrestrained music. Which makes the all-seater main auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall (flagship venue of the superb Celtic Connections festival) a rather poor fit.

Kusturica was clearly bemused. Noting the needless panic of the security staff when some people started dancing, he was keen to resolve matters in the audience’s favour. “Everyone who wants to dance tonight is more than welcome,” he said, “because this is dancing music.”

Within minutes the band was inviting some audience members to dance with them on the stage. And that, one might have thought, should have been that.

However, the security personnel had other ideas. Their ongoing struggle to subdue the crowd (which continued up to the encore) was the most pointless and ludicrous security operation I have seen in quarter-of-a-century of concert going.

Early in the show, Kusturica threatened to take the band off the stage, deciding to stay for the sake of the audience. “If the security do not mind, we will play this song,” he added, sarcastically.

The song was, to the delight of the audience, the signature tune from his award-winning movie Underground – an almost insanely quick piece, in which a honking tuba leads the seven-piece band in a raucous musical rollercoaster which epitomises what has been described as their “gypsy techno-rock”.

There is also, as Kusturica points out, “vulgar jazz”, among many other musical styles, in an explosive concert which includes music from films such as Time of the Gypsies and Black Cat, White Cat. Add to that moments of what the band leader happily calls “circus”. Outstanding violinist Dejan Sparavalo (who is dressed, variously, in a boxer’s robe and a succession of women’s frocks), plays the fiddle, by turns, on his head, on a bow stuck in his shoe, on a bow between his mouth and Kusturica’s, and, finally on a massive bow held aloft by two willing audience members.

A spectacularly crazy night of organised chaos, the show generated such pleasure and bonhomie that health and safety were never at risk. If only the head of security had had the sense to see it.

The Celtic Connections festival continues until Sunday. For details: celticconnections.com

This review was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on February 1, 2012: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/worldfolkandjazz/9053689/Emir-Kusturica-and-the-No-Smoking-Orchestra-Royal-Concert-Hall-Glasgow-review.html

© Mark Brown

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