Kultur Shock Acoustic Live

Kultur Shock Excite with Punk and Sevdah Stylings on ‘Acoustic Live’

Even unplugged, Kultur Shock are an unstoppable group, and Acoustic Live offers an unencumbered sense of how sharp they are almost 30 years into this project.

Acoustic Live
Kultur Shock
Old Age Recording Co.
2 October 2023

Whirling at top speed at the intersection of Balkan folk, punk rock, and political activism, Seattle-based Kultur Shock have released a dozen albums since coming together in 1996. Led by Bosnian vocalist Gino Yevdjevich, Kultur Shock’s truly global ensemble (here including members from Bulgaria, Greece, and the United States) have a repertoire bold for its styles and themes, and new release Acoustic Live showcases a plethora of both in full sonic color. Recorded at Seattle’s historic Town Hall, Acoustic Live consists of 14 substantial tracks spread over a broad musical spectrum. Kultur Shock are at their most eclectic and entertaining for this hometown performance.

As live albums go, Kultur Shock’s is impressive for its dynamism and commitment. They go all-in on every genre they touch, and there are many in their oeuvre. The band’s ferocious approach to tradition becomes evident immediately as the group opens their performance with “Mora”, an impassioned Sevdah piece as resolute as it is melancholy: the Kultur Shock ethos in a nutshell. Many of the pieces see the group blurring this imagined line between nostalgia and progressiveness, finding revolutionary continuities through combinations of sounds from the past and sentiments grounded in the moment.

This becomes overt three tracks in, on “Tutti Frutti”, a high-energy song that climaxes in a list of loaded terms with strong political and xenophobic connotations (“And I will call you terrorista / Antichrista / Komunista / Zapatista / Populista”). The energy continues to rise, with “Duna” interweaving Bulgarian and English language lyrics to tell a satirical story of fairy tale expectations and materialistic realities. The following several songs continue the album’s political streak. “God Is Busy, May I Help You?” and “Racist Song” play on anxieties about migration and differences over Balkan-tinged violins and percussion. “Country Mohammed” brings tight banjo lines into the ensemble as the band offers a scathing critique of the myth of the American dream with bluegrass overtones.

It’s easy to draw parallels between the works of Kultur Shock and Gogol Bordello, though it is worth noting that Kultur Shock predate the latter by a few years. The groups are nevertheless comparable in terms of their styles of social critique and propensity for blurring cultural lines through text, sound, and instrumentation. Acoustic Live’s eclectic final third leans back toward Balkan dance and Sevdah styles once again, always with a heart of rock and roll that manifests differently in each song. The shifting meter of “Nadjia” and the driving guitars of “Moj Dilbere” suggest investments in punk as much as in folk. The vocal harmonies of “Zora” make for a solemn penultimate moment made even more powerful when followed by the closing track “Snijeg”, a truly magnificent mix of tango, rock, blues, and Sevdah that ends the show with aplomb.

Acoustic Live is an immense set of songs from a band that know well what they want to do with their music. Here, they inspire, inflame, excite, and educate their audiences all at once with selections from a sizable and diverse catalogue of songs. Even unplugged, Kultur Shock are an unstoppable group, and Acoustic Live offers an unencumbered sense of how sharp they are almost 30 years into this project.

RATING 8 / 10