Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Gig Review: BETAGARRI, Knust, Hamburg 2/12/2005

I took in this gig as part of a trip with a few mates to Hamburg for a long weekend. We had tickets to see St Pauli vs Werder Bremen II on the Friday evening and when we were sorting out the match tickets we found out that the St Pauli fans xmas party was taking place after the game so we got ourselves tickets for that too.

The barman in the Jolly Roger pub promised us a great night and particularly talked up the 2nd band who were to perform: Betagarri, "very good Basque Ska band. You will like".

The doors for the event opened pretty quickly after the match finished but we took our time in getting there so by the time we did so it was already pretty busy. The venue had 2 main rooms - a larger area with a stage at one end, a main bar and a small bottle bar, and an upstairs balcony around the top, also a fairly large bar, slightly brighter and with more seating. The gig was in the main auditorium so we made our way and got ourselves some drink just as the band came on stage. The audience were initially a little slow to really get into the performance and the band themselves seemed to take a wee bit of time to really get going. We made our way forward through the crowd and settled on standing about 20 feet or so from the stage for the fitrst few numbers. It was clear that there were a few people in the audience that were there specifically for the band and had heard them before, but that the majority were there as St Pauli fans and the music was as new to them as it was to me.

After 2 or 3 songs I felt that this was a performance I was going to enjoy, and the rest of the crowd started to get into it too. This seemed to feed through to the band, who were really warmed up by now and starting to put some feeling into the show. Frontman IƱaki Ortiz de Villalba proceeded to move around the stage like a madman for the duration of the gig, running up and down, dancing on the spot, spinning round in circles "shooting" the crowd and his band mates and gradually removing his top couple of layers of clothing as the place warmed up.

After another couple of songs my mate James suggested we move a bit closer to the stage so the 2 of us squeezed out way forward and eventually made our way onto the mosh pit where a good crowd of guys and girls were jumping, pogoing around, doing what in the Uk would be known as a "Madness Walk" and generally building up a healthy sweat.

Betagarri's music is a roaring Ska/Punk combination and live they are a fantastic experience. The rhythm section as you would no doubt expect, comprises drums and bass, then there are 2 guitarists and a brass section of trumpet, trombone and sax. As you would expect from a bunch of talented musicians who have been gigging together for a number of years, they're pretty tight and they really seem to enjoy themselves on stage.

The performance was interrupted for about 15 minutes when the St Pauli team arrived on stage and were lauded by the assembled throng. At this point James and I were pushed back slightly by some of the female members of the crowd - who'd be a footballer?!

Subsequently the band got stuck right back into their set and we proceeded to give ourselves some pretty achey legs and feet in the morning. The highlight was probably their biggest hit, "Verde" during which Ortiz de Villalba led the band and the crowd in enthusistic jogging from left to right and then back again - from my view at the front the level of participation was pretty high.

As you might expect from a Basque band there is a political element to some of their songs, reinforced by a chorus of "Bandiera Rossa" in Italian late on in the set case you hadn't picked it up from the Basque lyrics. This was never going to turn off too many St Pauli fans of course!

All in all a very enjoyable gig by Betagarri. I've had a look at their website which has a fairly extensive amount of English content but I can't see if they have ever performed in the UK. I know they gig pretty heavily throughout the Basque Country and Catalonia, and that the Hamburg gig was part of a German tour. They have also played in the USA in the past. If you do get a chance to see them I would recommend it - otherwise do check out some of their music on their website.

Postscript: A big surprise when I got home and played the CD I bought at the gig to my girlfriend ("I hate Ska" - though to be fair about the only Ska she knows is Madness!). Once it finished she asked me to put it on again and we've listened to it quite a few times since. Now there's a recommendation.


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