There’s crazy, raucous big bands – and then there’s Babylon Circus.
With nine members playing an assemblage of instruments in a style that traverses everything from gypsy, reggae and funk to raw rock and ska, this “musical menagerie” takes high-energy performance to a whole new level. It’s a little like a French Cat Empire multiplied by the power of a thousand Red Bulls.
Their weekend gig at Sessions at the Space Theatre began innocently enough, with each member quietly and slowly taking their place on stage in outfits that made them resemble a gypsy travelling circus. Then the trumpet and trombone arrived, and suddenly the mad party launched with – fittingly – the title song from their latest album, Never Stop.
Other tracks from the new release also got an airing in the high-speed set, but there was plenty to thrill fans of their earlier albums, with highlights for this reviewer including the zippy “Nina” and jump-inducing “La Cigarette” from 2008’s La Belle Étoile, and “Into the Jungle” (complete with bird calls by Manuel Nectoux) from 2004’s Dances of Resistance.
Charismatic lead vocalist David Baruchel jumped, ran, danced, spun and sweated on stage, alongside equally energetic singer Nectoux and other members on bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, trumpet, trombone, accordion and clarinet. He exhorted the audience into ever-louder screams, faster dancing and higher jumps, feeding their energy back into the performance.
The “monsieurs” and “mademoiselles” of the crowd were offered a couple of brief French lessons – traversing the words for music, loud and, of course, chanson d’amour – but the show was pretty much a non-stop wild ride. It echoed the band’s popular performance at WOMADelaide in 2008, only intensified by the smaller, steamier space.
The loudness and unruliness of a Babylon Circus performance could be daunting if you didn’t know what you were getting into, and it’s possible some of the audience members who raced to nab the limited cabaret-style seats as soon as the theatre doors opened might have fallen into this category. At the end of the night, though, silver heads, hippies and hipsters were all jostling for space on the same dance floor.
Live music doesn’t get much more fun than this, and I can’t think of a better tonic after a long working week. Baruchel told us he had a dream the audience would join him and his fellow musicians on the road as gypsy travellers: after an hour and a half in their company, who wouldn’t want to run away and join the circus?
Babylon Circus played a one-off gig as part of the Sessions series of live music at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre. They are touring nationally on the back of their new album, Never Stop.
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