06 October 2018: It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon in Yekaterinburg, a large industrial city in the middle of Ural Mountains. Here, amidst massive and strictly shaped Constructivist houses, stands Kolizey, a small but pompous two-storey building. It is an exalted remnant of pre-Revolutionary Russia that opened its doors in 1845 as the first city theatre, now used as a cinema and live venue. But the doors are closed for now, causing curious passers-by and disappointed cinema-goers to glance through the glass to see what’s happening.
Inside, moving around the portable stage mounted in the main hall, Jenya Gorbunov of Inturist conducts the soundcheck for the long awaited presentation of his Командировка album along with his bandmates.. Though considered the third largest city in the country, Yekaterinburg is usually left out when Moscow and Saint-Petersburg musicians go on tour due to the transportation difficulties, so the gig of such talked-about collective as Inturist is a guaranteed head-turner around here. We count somewhat close to a hundred of people when all is set and we get inside – a rather nice result for an underground band delving into the province.
Inturist is known to be unpredictable in terms of line-up, ranging from solo act to an improvisational four-piece. But today this free-form chaos is laid aside for the proper presentation of the record. Dima Midborn (bass), Viktor Glazunov (drums) and Sergey Khramcevitch (saxophone) take the stage and start with the intro to Не обещай (“Don’t promise”). In a minute or so, they are joined by the man himself, Jenya Gorbunov, who picks up his guitar and steps forward to the mic. This crawling opener with repeating passages mesmerizes the audience, which explodes with an ovation once the song is over.
We take a quick moment to appreciate the venue. The hall is completely white, featuring a second-level balcony that encircles the place. It is supported by thick columns that go well with the stage, adding symmetry and beauty to the makeshift construction. The musicians are dressed accordingly in black classic suits with the exception of Gorbunov, who wears snow-white shirt as the leader of the pack. This certainly feels like a fitting place for Inturist.
Up on the stage, the magic continues. Songs from Командировка are played in the album order, but the synthy avant-garde instrumentals are left out for the sake of the flow and danceability. Couple of new ones are thrown into the mix instead, such as the crowd favorites 'Сейчас подъедет человек' (“A man will come by soon”) and 'Экономика' (“Economics”). Live versions of the songs sound even more impressive, enhanced by Glazunov’s drumming and the talent of Sergey Khramcevitch, an extremely prolific sax player and one of the best known figures on the Moscow free-jazz scene. Each number ends with an extended outro that compensates for the improvisational element and sends the audience into an uncontrollable dance.
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Gorbunov’s acting adds a whole new layer to the experience as well. There isn’t an idle moment from him, as he twists face to face with Midborn during solos or makes hand gestures while he sings. If a song requires singing and playing the guitar at the same time, Jenya accentuates the lyrics with his face. Just as the perpetual wave of his creative energy, he is never still, always keeping up with the music and entertaining the viewers by all means necessary. He fills pauses between songs with jokes, tells stories and thanks the audience for joining his “little ritual agency” for this “little ritual”. The crowd thanks him back and asks for an encore after a particularly touching performance of Перемещайтесь (“Move around”), but the pleasant afternoon at Kolizey has come to an end.
And a wild night at Yekaterinburg has just begun. We follow Inturist to another venue right across the road, the huge Uralsky Rabochiy print house. It seems that our journey through time has taken us into a mirrored world, where everything is the opposite of what we saw before. Leaving behind the soft comfort of a high-class theatre, we endure a security check that feels more like an unauthorized police raid and find ourselves on the fourth floor of a barely illuminated ex-factory that seems just this far from crumbling down on our heads.
Here, a techno party rages on, which doesn’t particularly reassure us that the place is safe. We pass through endless rooms filled with hundreds of crazed locals, while DJs ravage the PA with soul-crushingly low frequencies, shaking the old dusty walls. We can’t help but notice some ridiculous amount of security lurking in the smoke and staring at you as if you are guilty by just showing up in here. We even get to witness some quarrelsome drunk being taken down and dragged away in a military fashion by five or six guards. Russian rave is serious business.
At the farthest end of this menacing labyrinth we catch up with Jenya Gorbunov and his boys. Designed by local artists for this night only, the room we settle in features disfigured human-sized rag dolls hanging from the ceiling and absurd writings covering the walls. Everything is lit with red, and one of the dolls is crucified right above the stage, giving this place an entourage of a cultist joint from some over-the-top grindhouse flick.
The ambiance here is much less formal than in Kolizey, so Inturist get out of the suits and dive head-on into the jam. As good as they sound when playing the album, improvisation turns out to be their most amazing side. Drum kit is replaced by four conga drums, which Viktor Glazunov operates just as masterfully as the full set. His beats give a strong foundation for the rest of the band, who build upon it with well structured verses and choruses. These cuts sound like they’ve been played for years, but this is just the Inturist’s professional skill and ability to create beauty from scratch.
Gorbunov shines as a frontman once again, providing subtle direction and leading the jam where his own imagination tells him. While the band experiments with riffs and patterns as a collective, Jenya glues it all together with his lyrics and anecdotes At one point, he proclaims that we are now in the Hall of the Mountain Goat, and the following track tells the story of this peculiar creature that, as it turns out, has some serious problems with gambling. Gorbunov seems to be deeply concerned by the fate of the character he just created, as he begs the goat to be normal again and go back to his starving family. The audience becomes involved in the act as well, chanting “Be normal! It’s time to be normal!” along with the band.
The next piece is a hilariously dramatic interpretation of Scorpions’ ‘Wind of Change’ with lyrics being loosely translated into Russian on the go. Starting as a parody, the song surprisingly slides into a very intense outro that climaxes in a moment of true emotional bliss. Entranced by the music, Alexandr Elsakov, one of the gig organizers, climbs upon a table in the corner of the stage, conducting the movements of equally hypnotized viewers, screaming and waving his hands around like an inebriated preacher. But Jenya Gorbunov is Jenya Gorbunov, and, just when it all begins to resemble some religious ritual, he fixes the situation by abruptly stopping the majestic flood of music to tell another anecdote with an innocent smile on his face. But he has to wait, as the sudden silence is immediately filled with a deafening wave of applause and ecstatic laughter from people who appreciate the humor of such a move.
The gig continues for a while, bringing to life more characters and situations that inhabit Gorbunov’s mind. The band seem to enjoy this format much more than playing pre-rehearsed numbers, and it feels like this set is at least two times as long as the one before.
We also notice some of the youngsters we met earlier at the Kolizey entrance who keep on dancing even when the live gig is over and most of the audience leave. After packing the instruments and rearranging the scene, Gorbunov teams up with Midborn for a back-to-back DJ set. The rest of the night goes to a fine selection of retro tunes embellished by the childish playfulness of the duo, messing around with tempo and pitch, bang the drum machine along to the music and enact silent comedy sketches.
But even their magic can’t last forever. As the sun slowly rises, Inturist leave for the hotel to rest and let the shaken city do the same. We depart as well, hearing heartfelt goodbyes from security and catching the last moments of the party that slows down and fades out to make way for the calm Sunday morning. Time to be normal.