Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra

"Erin Brockovich? With a polka band?" Isabella asked.

"No, not Erin Brockovich. Goran Bregovich... and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra," I replied.

"Since when does Erin Brockovich have a polka band? This should be fun- my father loved polka bands," she said.

"I don't know."

"Are jeans okay?"

"As long as you're not a Slav, yes."


"Because they'll be dressed a little differently. But you can wear whatever you want."

"What will they be wearing?"

"They'll look like Erin Brockovich- only hotter."

Later in the night, as we exited BART and made our way toward the Paramount, I asked "Do you realize at least half of our dates have been at this theater?"

"No they haven't," she said with certainty.

"Yes, they have."

"You've never taken me taken me to see a polka band before."

"And I'm not tonight."

While we were waiting in line for drinks at the downstairs bar  she admitted, "Okay, I recognize these bartenders. I guess we have been here a few times."

The line at the bar was a bit long, and Erins cut in front of me while Isabella was in the restroom, so by the time we were ready to go in the show had started and the overzealous door staff were keeping people from entering during the first two songs.

Two of the musicians came up to the door wearing folk costumes.

"Polka band," Isabella whispered in my ear.

Just then another Erin cut in front of me. Four inches separated us. I blew on her neck. Isabella laughed. The woman didn't budge. I blew on her neck again. She quivered slightly and stepped to her left.

"This is an aggressive crowd," Isabella noted.

"You haven't seen anything yet," I replied.

A Ringmaster unlike any other

The gatekeepers opened the doors and we walked down the aisle to experience Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra. I say experience because there isn't really isn't a better way to describe what was about to take place- the word "concert" or "show" doesn't capture it fully. The line-up was the same as it was the last time they were in town- nineteen people on stage- Bregovic on guitar, a lone drummer, two horn players, two brass, one clarinet (for the klezmer effect), a string quartet, two female singers in traditional Bulgarian garb, and six male singers clad in tuxedos.

The format was similar too, but perhaps owing to this show being the last of their North American tour, the orchestra was simply on fire during this performance, playing with a passion I'm not sure I've witnessed since I saw the Clash at the Hollywood Palladium in 1982. It's chaotic by design, but this was something more. Bregovic read the audience perfectly and had them (myself included) in the palm of his hand. They stopped clapping asked, shushed other audience members during the quieter songs, and danced with complete abandon during the incredibly fast dance numbers. Yet this show seemed more focused in many ways, the orchestra more disciplined. There was a powerful moment when the male singers turned and stood to face the Bulgarian women as they sang a gorgeous folk tune. The sextet themselves were simply phenomenal, sounding like an entire church choir at times, at others using their voices as true instruments to complete the complex, multi-layered sound drawn from across the Balkan landscape and history. The string quartet played with exceptional precision and their turn in the spotlight was just one of many standout moments. The set featured many of their standard rave-ups like "Kalishnikov," "Gus," and the delirious "Alkohol"- which prompted a woman in the front to place an entire bottle of something at the foot of the stage, which Bregovic opened during the encore and took a couple of deep swigs from.

It was almost three hours of pure, ferocious music- and with the exception of the second night of Prince's concerts last February, easily the best thing I've seen all year. Isabella confessed she's never seen a polka band quite like it. You should have been there.

The concert was presented by SFJazz.