The transnational gypsy punks Gogol Bordello have long sounded like no one else, even as their sound has sounded increasingly similar to itself on record after record. There’s no other band with Latin rhythm, gypsy accordion, Old World violin, Slavic vocals, Japanese dancing, African bass and more. But even more rare and more singular is their live show, which takes all of that and goes absolutely nuts with it, like at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on Tuesday, July 23rd.
Music Hall (QRO venue review) was a relatively small venue for the band; it was actually chosen for a Bowery Presents online live video stream of the entire concert. Like the much more local Gaslight Anthem’s similar small venue/streamed show there last year (QRO review), the show sold out quickly, with a serious line for entry, big tour bus out front – some unfortunates had even bought fake tickets from particularly crooked scalpers. The video equipment took up a good deal of space on the stage floor – this was a rare show where Music Hall had a photo pit.
The show was also a release party for Bordello’s new Pura Vida Conspiracy (QRO review), out that day, but the set list wasn’t dominated by the new album. Instead, it was the prior Trans-Continental Hustle (QRO review) and 2006 breakthrough Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike that comprised the majority of the night (along with a few songs early from the record between those two, Super Taranta! – QRO review). Perhaps the band wanted to give the newest record more time to be known by the fans before playing heavily off of it.
While it is true that the crowd went most nuts for well-known pieces such as “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Together)”, “Wonderlust King”, and early breakthrough single “Start Wearing Purple”, they were going nuts for all the songs. There really isn’t a Gogol Bordello song that doesn’t see fans shouting & rocking at one time or another. But it should be noted that the pieces aren’t hardcore from start to finish – Bordello’s songs nicely have stops and starts to them, loud/quiet, fast/slow, which make for nice most pits, as the moshers can go from slam-dancing to swaying together on the drop of a hat. It’s a bit akin to alt-punk legends Dinosaur Jr. (QRO live review), only in an international way.
Singer/guitarist Eugene Hütz was the natural frontman, shirtless with sweat-soaked long hair and long mustache, but everyone from the band got in on the game. Pedro Erazo would go from hitting his bongo drums at the back of the stage to MCing up front. Elizabeth Sun would dance at the lip of the stage, but also do percussion on seemingly everything (including herself). What other band not only has an accordion player (Yuri Lemeshev) step up to rock right in the face of the crowd, but even has a special platform at the front front for all to use – which sees one member graciously backing off when another wants to step forward & up?
One didn’t need to be drinking all night – or at all – to have rocked out with Gogol Bordello (though one should stay hydrated, with all the sweat flying everywhere on the hot night). You didn’t even really need to know their songs, or understand Hutz’s thick accent (memorialized in his turn as Tobey Maguire’s Ukrainian translator in the movie version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated). The energy of the band, the energy of the fans, the energy of the music is truly international.