Some young fella with a bottle of cider in his hand walks up to the queue outside the Button Factory. “Who’s playing tonight?” “Booka Brass Band.” “Yeah, wh…say that to me again?” “Booka! Brass Band. You know, trumpets and all that shit.” “Aw, right, I’ll leave you to it so.” He doesn’t know what he’s about to miss.
Upon arrival it’s the mellow yet disparate sounds of Young Woods that are warming up the venue. It’s a tentative early step into the deep end of live performances featuring lots of looking around and the band members not really giving themselves over to the music. But their musicianship is good and they manage to seamlessly navigate a technical hiccup mid-song. A few rather groovy numbers pop up in their set, they just need a bit more stagetime to iron out the creases.
When the main attraction arrives however it’s a different story. They haven’t been in this live performance game for long, but apart from getting their moves somewhat out of sync a couple times you’d be hard pressed to tell. Two trumpets, two trombones, a sax, a sousaphone and a drum-kit combine to blast out the iconic opening notes to Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra. And things only get more epic from there.
It’s a fine mix of influences the Bookas draw from, leaping from Destiny’s Child one minute to War by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble the next, and then on to Pastime Paradise. They’ve a nice sprinkling of their own tracks and the special guest appearances have great variety, with Jerry Fish coming in with My Friend Jim and Daryl McCormack taking on Rapper’s Delight. However it’s Lisa Hannigan’s one-two punch of her own Knots followed by New Order’s Blue Monday that steals the show; a completely mad mixture that just works somehow, maybe not musically, but the energy is so huge in the room it seems impossible not to go with it.
To be honest, it gets difficult to keep up with the tracklist because the venue is so packed that it becomes impossible to move and take notes any more. All your effort gets directed into holding on to the articles of clothing you should have left in the cloakroom, and would have with a bit of foresight. By the end, after tearing through Crazy In Love as the outro music plays, David Conway on sax hobbles up to the mic and says ‘I’m fuckin’ wrecked.’ He’s not the only one.
The country’s wrecked. Politically, socially, economically it’s wrecked. But culturally the city is alive and Booka Brass Band are a symptom of that. That’s not to say that Booka Brass Band are the best band in the city, which would be a stretch. But every culturally healthy city has – or should have – a brass band they can be proud of, one they can point to whenever some Americans drop over and say “yeah, here’s ours.” Booka Brass Band are that for Dublin.
The simple pleasures of this gig aren’t best communicated through a full standard review. What would be more appropriate would be a series of increasingly colloquial racy poster quotes, so here’s a few:
Booka Brass Band; a grand night out.
Booka Brass Band; leave the coat in the cloakroom, for jayzus sake
Booka Brass Band; giving Dublin the horn since 2013
Booka bleedin’ Brass Band; hoor a birra trombone inta ye
Booka Brass Band; choonage suas an staighre, amach an doras agus síos an bóthar