There are not many bands in this world that perform such original and groundbreaking music with as much passion and eccentricity as Gogol Bordello and Primus. Whoever had the idea to put the two bands on the same bill is, in all likelihood, crazy. But, as has been said before, there is a fine line between crazy and genius. The excitement leading up to the night these two bands came together at Red Rocks was comparable to that of any other show in the area this summer, and when it finally happened, that thin line was not only crossed, it was danced on, sung to, screamed at, laughed about, and soaked with the spilled beer of 9,000 obsessive fans.
It was a bit after 8pm when Gogol Bordello took the stage. Each member stormed the stage one at a time wielding his instrument. The sounds of “Illumination” came together, louder and louder, layer after layer, until finally Eugene Hutz jumped on stage with his usual gusto, furiously strumming his acoustic guitar and bouncing around among his band mates, soon leading the crowd in chants of the chorus to “Ultimate”, an embittered gypsy sing-a-long. Everyone in attendance suddenly and simultaneously lost their minds dancing and screaming as the entirety of the band led the way doing much of the same.
For their full performance, the unbridled energy did not stop, and you could feel it in the air. “My Companjera”, “Trans-Continental Hustle” and “Break the Spell”, sometimes led by Hutz and other times by MC and percussionist Pedro Erazo, arguably got the biggest reactions from the crowd, but slow-starting songs such as “When Universes Collide” held the thickest of tension just because of what would come at the end: a fury set afire by the class injustices that Gogol speaks out against at every turn. It was not until the end of the show that a breath could be taken by anyone on stage. But even that didn’t seem necessary as violinist Sergey Ryabtsev led the band front-and-center in yet another raucous gypsy jam before they had to give way, gone but far from forgotten, to the main attraction of the evening.
After a brief period of stage setup and audience chants of “Primus Sucks!” the three men known as Primus rushed to the stage, silhouetted by the backing lights of the two oversized spacemen flanking the setup on either side. The rattling slap of Les Claypool’s bass was soon complemented by the screaming guitar of Larry “Ler” LaLonde and Jay Lane’s drum kit as the trio broke in their section of the night with “Pudding Time”.
It wasn’t long into the set before Claypool, in black stovepipe hat and leather vest, approached the microphone and told the crowd “Well, that’s it, we’ll play one more song for you,” to which his fans screamed adoringly “YOU SUCK!” Claypool only kept going. “And it’s a short song, too.” And again, the crowd praised him with the laughter hidden behind chants of “YOU SUCK!” He didn’t keep the joke going long, though. He brought his voice up an octave and proclaimed, “Actually I’m joshin’ ya. I’m just joshin’ ya!” before he high-stepped and bounced around the stage for another 68 minutes.
There was hardly one single high point to the show, as each passing second drove just as hard as the previous one. Perhaps a favorite moment though, at least on a personal level, happened as members of Gogol Bordello joined the band on stage for the Tom Waits song “Big in Japan”. With so many commanding personalities on stage, it was hard to know whom to watch, but the voices of Claypool and Hutz shook the place to pieces as they imitated the throaty, whiskey-soaked roar of Waits.
As you can only imagine with the caliber of fans that Primus has garnered over the years with their unmatched musical and lyrical irreverence, a fitting ending to the show, “Harold on the Rocks”, only left the crowd wanting more. Luckily the trio rocked the house once more with what is perhaps their only (ahem) famous song, “Tommy the Cat” as an encore. But even that wasn’t enough. Everyone still only wanted more.