Sydney Festival: Band of Gypsies

Last night was a hyper-joyful night of Sydney Festival folk music at the Enmore Theatre.

The first act – which I did not know about – was of a style called Shangaan Electro, hyper-fast electro dance from South Africa. The group of four dancers and singers, and one DJ, carried on the most hyperkinetic dancing I’ve ever seen for a solid 30 minutes. It was dizzying and tiring to watch. The dancers moved with such joy you couldn’t look away; it also helped that the men wore orange jumpsuits with ridiculously fake beer bellies. The beats flew at breakneck speed. It became almost psychedelic.

The main acts, collectively named Band of Gypsies, were comprised of Romanian folk troupe Taraf de Haïdouks and Macedonian brass band Kočani orkestar. They played song after song of gypsy music: wild violins, three accordions, tubas, clarinets, and lots more. It was a Balkan/middle eastern/Slavic/Latin amalgam of high-energy Romani epics. Bows were flying, fingers were snapping, trumpets were blaring. Everyone took their solos, and a few would occasionally sing. It was irrepressibly jubilant. It was the gypsy spirit.

It’s hard for me to imagine seeing either of these sort of acts here at any other time. Way to go, Sydney Festival.

The Gossip at the Enmore Theatre

Last night was my first gig at Newtown’s Enmore Theatre, to see The Gossip. It reminded me of some of the great music halls in London, particularly the Hammersmith Apollo: grubby, ornate, and well-worn with sweat and loud music. It’s much smaller than the Apollo or Brixton Academy, though the upstairs seats seem to stretch back a long way.

The opening act was meant to be Friendly Fires, but a family crisis mean they had to pull out. I caught a few songs from the latter of the two bands that replaced them: Art Vs Science. They were good openers: their simple, slightly crunchy, very synthy, bouncy, dance sound made for good hype.

There was also a short set between acts from triple j DJ Nick Findlay that kept our toes tapping as we waited.

The Gossip have made a big splash in the UK and in just-slightly-off-mainstream rock circles elsewhere. The capacity crowd certainly screamed from the moment Beth Ditto shimmied on stage in her printed bodysuit. There’s obviously a lot of notice and fan love because she’s an outspoken, unafraid, very short, very fat, gay woman. And she was a good frontwoman last night, dancing and talking and playing with the crowd.

But really, The Gossip’s musical appeal – which is substantial – is threefold:

  1. Beth’s voice isn’t a particularly sweet or delicate instrument, but she’s got great emotional rock pipes.
  2. Every song is danceable.
  3. Drummer Hannah Blilie plays in just the right style to maximise each song’s danceable groove.

They played a fun, 75 minute set. They covered Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” Beth stripped to her undies for “Standing In The Way Of Control”. The delivery is a bit punk: DIY, no-nonsense, little concern about the polish. There were no surprises, nor any letdowns: Beth delivered the fun and attitude, which was what we all expected.