Click here for photos from this show in the QRO Concert Photo Gallery
Click here for all of QRO’s coverage of Gogol Bordello in QRO’s ‘Spotlight On : Gogol Bordello’ feature
Starting last year as live music returned out of the COVID shadow, the GRAMMY Museum has been putting on a series of special events in New York City, where high-profile artists not only perform, but are also interviewed. There’s been Jon Batiste (QRO photos), Stromae (QRO live review), and Silvana Estrada (QRO photos). Yet the one at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust on Monday, March 6th was particularly unique, with not only the gypsy-punks Gogol Bordello, but also an interview with their Ukrainian lead singer Eugene Hütz by none other than famed director Jim Jarmusch.
Having a famous person do the interview can be a double-edged sword, as while it brings more attention (Gogol Bordello never headlined The Late Show or Madison Square Garden), it’s not what they’re best at, and can have a tendency to talk too much themselves. But Jarmusch worked well talking with Hütz, as they had been friends for decades; indeed, started by recounting how the first met, at a Run-DMC concert, then meeting none other than Iggy Pop and Joe Strummer. They had a great rapport, Jarmusch teeing up material for the expressive Hütz, including such things as knocking the genre concept of ‘world music’ or pointing out famed Russian artists that were actually Ukrainian (like writer Nikolai Gogol himself).
Naturally a lot of the conversation focused on Hütz’s Ukrainian heritage, starting with him exclaiming how terrible Soviet radio was, and punk for him was a reaction to that. Hütz noted Eastern Europeans who were in the original late seventies punk scene, such as Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone (ne Erdélyi) and Patti Smith’s recently-passed guitarist Ivan Kral, while Jarmusch noted the ‘of the moment’ nature of both punk and Romani music (one of Gogol Bordello’s many influences). Hütz pointed out that there were a number of punk artists who advocated for Ukraine right from the start of the war, from Patti Smith to Sick Of It All.
And yes, there was talk of the war. Hütz gave an analysis of the cognitive dissonance in ‘Russian greatness’, that it is used to distract from the misery of life in Czarist/Soviet/Putin Russia (also, more Ivan Dragos in Ukraine). Jarmusch admitted to initially being skeptical of any war, “mistrust of those who make money off war,” from defense contractors to even Joe Biden, an issue many on the left had at the start. Hütz said he couldn’t view it from that distance, “white people problem…”
Note that they did all of this seated on the National Sawdust stage, in front of the band’s equipment, with a seated audience. When Jarmusch said at the end of the interview that they would be, “taking a break to take away the chairs,” people thought it meant the audience’s chairs, because Gogol Bordello is not a bad you sit and watch. However, it was just Hütz & Jarmusch’s chairs, and it made for a bit of awkwardness when Gogol Bordello started, but it only took the first song, “My Companjera”, for the crowd to stand up and rock.
Naturally, the show at a classy & seated place couldn’t be as wild as a usual Gogol Bordello show, but their shows can get pretty wild (QRO live review). Indeed, it only took that first song for Hütz to rip off his shirt (he had had to wear it for that whole interview…). To house-right, Gogol were accompanied on stage by the Scorchio Quartet, semi-directed by GB violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, Hütz remarking, “The party’s on this side of the stage – they got the best fuckin’ seat in the house…” And those chairs? Hütz walked on top of them multiple times, starting with the new “Ere of the End of Eras”. Meanwhile, for “Forces of Victory” (also from last year’s SOLIDARITINE – QRO review), the band was joined by the song’s co-writer, Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan.
Gogol Bordello are an NYC band, having already played multiple New Year’s shows (QRO live review) a few months ago, and Tibet House US Benefit Concert just five days before (QRO photos). Yet this was still a special way to see & hear them, thanks to GRAMMY Museum.