Gogol Bordello, the gypsy-punk cabaret band, is the perfect tonic to a war prone post-9/11 world. In my opinion this is one of the most unique and intense live bands touring right now. Their music is rich with irreverent lyrics and is accompanied by a unique mix of old world Slavic instrumentation with very new world electro-trash energy.
Lets begin with their lead singer Eugene Hutz. Hutz is a Ukrainian ex-pat who made a name for himself in New York City as the heralded wild D.J at the Bulgarian Bar and Luxx. Hutz spun trans global music ranging from Argentinean rock to Turkish house to Flamenco. His underground fame among hipsters and club goers was based not only on his good taste in music, but also his penchant for taking his shirt off and leading the whole crowd in song as he played guitar on top of a table. Hutz carried this incredible exhibitionist energy over to Gogol Bordello and in doing so established a new standard of musical performance.
The cabaret quality and over all jest of the band does not cloud the prowess of the music or the musicians themselves. Hutz flanks himself with professionals. The older statesman of the group, Sergey Ryabtsev plays violin, while younger rocker Oren Kaplan adds the punk edge on guitar. Yuri Lemeshev is a true accordion virtuoso player and avant-garde jazz schooled sax-man Ori Kaplan adds to the level of melodic sophistication. The drummer Eliot Ferguson, the only U.S born musician, grounds the group competently while the Cold War clad cheerleaders Susan Donaldson and Pamela Racine construct an ironic sexy aesthetic.
An hour behind schedule the band took the stage as the already fueled crowd chanted for their arrival. Gogol ignited with a driving beat, distorted guitar, pulsing violin, and waltzing accordion. Hutz stormed on to the stage, his face covered with shaving cream accompanied by The Gogol Dance Troop. He and the girls began to shred newspaper and survey the crowd, as if the show had interrupted Hutz's nightly routine of a shave and the destruction of periodicals.
This entrance hints to why Gogol Bordello is as much a visual experience as it is auditory. Hutz captures the stage and has no problem using every inch of it. At some point in the evening you can find him crouching next to the legs of the dancers or standing on an amp playing guitar. There is raw yet choreographed movement among all the musicians as each one moves through the bedlam to solo, or in the case of the dancers, stick their legs up in the air so that Hutz can use them as posts to play percussion with fire buckets. These antics augment the infectious driving beat and melodies of the music. The crowd embraces this energy enthusiastically through harmonic chants and a sweaty intense mosh pit in front of the stage. Eugene Hutz breaks the boundary of performer and audience during the show. In one instance while banging on his guitar he fit himself into a drum and was carried above the crowd. On another occasion Hutz held out the monitors into the audience so that the crowd could get even closer to the sound. These acts did not seem like the clich'd feats of alternative rock narcissism, but rather genuine bridges of emotion and energy between the audience and the band. Such is Gogol Bordello's Dionysian aesthetic, a melding of exotic sounds and celebratory and ridiculous movements.
Gogol Bordello is in many ways "multi-cultural" by nature of their individual backgrounds, yet there is refreshing transcendence of singular world-views in their whole act. The ancient gypsy sound of the soaring violin and the marching accordion accompany perfectly absurd lyrics like, "Should I be a classic self-crasher or just a good flasher." Then there are hints to more earnest references of Hutz's past or the politics of his origins with lyrics like, "When there are spies in every corner of your town you must go through the roof 'n underground." In the world of Gogol Bordello you find yourselves dancing in a gypsy ghetto, climbing out of a window, or celebrating 500 hundred years of vodka with your uncle from the mother country. "It's a stereotype, but it what we Russians like to drink," said Hutz. Gogol Bordello shows us how life and good music can be funny, and in so doing saves us from taking ourselves too seriously. It is this type of creative force that needs to be spread throughout America right now.