For the last few years Gogol Bordello have been kicking up a bit of a storm in America, but these guys are only just now creeping (or more appropriately marauding) into Britain’s consciousness. Still, their militant Gypsy punk is defiantly getting through. The band sold out their already upgraded London Astoria gig on this tour, and I swear I heard the tail-end of their rollicking party anthem “Start Wearing Purple” on daytime Radio 1 the other day.
Still, it took a fair job convincing a couple of Oasis-loving mates to come down and see Gogol Bordello with me:
9 Mar 2006: Sheffield Corporation Sheffield, England
“What do they sound like?”.
“Er, bit like a Ukrainian version of the Pogues but with facial hair - they’re great”.
“S’alright mate I think I’ll give it a miss”.
Anyway, to these ears at least, Gypsy Punks, the band’s most recent and career-to-date defining release, comes on more like a manifesto than an album - it’s all cries for cultural revolution, asylum bills, and karaoke dictatorships. It’s a fantastic, angry, touching, fucked up storm of a record, whipping elements of Gypsy music, punk, dub and cabaret into a frenzied, all-inclusive mess.
I’m fairly new to the party, but Gogol are no gimmick. Like the Pogues, theirs is a thrilling attempt at bastardising—in the best possible way—the ethnic music of their roots and creating a monster that’s entirely their own.
More of a demented ringmaster than a frontman, Eugene Hutz takes his vision of “Gypsy Punk”, and all his built up anger and unrelenting desire to ‘party’, from New York to anyplace that will risk booking the band. And tonight, Sheffield gets the full Gogol experience.
From the start, the venue’s curious mix of old punks, metal-heads and innocent bystanders are swept up in the thrashing, heaving insanity of the music. In the second song, “Sally”, Hutz strips down to the waist, as he writhes and jolts across the stage like a seedy, moustached Iggy Pop. The band’s music remains at its most wired, coming to life in dingy, beery clubs like this. Songs like “Start Wearing Purple” and an extended, frenzied “Dogs Were Barking” are surely meant to be heard whilst watching the musicians dancing and reeling, and Hutz, like a Birthday Party-era Nick Cave, gesticulating wildly at the front row.
Of course, with about six pints feeling heavy and that alcohol driven adrenaline fading to sheer bloody exhaustion, there’s no real option but to duck out of the fray and head back to the bogs for a minute. From back there, the Gogol circus, in full flow, is impressive indeed. As far as sights to behold go, emerging from the grotty toilets of the Sheffield Corporation to see a band all over the stage might not sound particularly gripping, but you’ll have to trust me on this one. As the muffled music floods back round my ears, seeing the stage illuminated with violin and accordion players lurching forwards, women in full gypsy gear throwing out packs of cards, and Hutz launching his mic, then his body into the crowd, is a grinning, thrilling experience. These might all be familiar tricks for the band, but they’re not to me.
The white-hot intensity from the stage is infectious and totally irresistible. As the show ends with a lighting rig pulled down and, to the exasperation of the bouncers, Hutz riding over the crowd on a bass drum, you wonder why more gigs can’t be like this.
I might well feel differently in the morning, but for tonight at least, I lost my head to Eugene Hutz’s Gypsy Punk, and it felt great. At their best, Gogol Bordello are a relevant and electrifying movement, kicking and screaming through the world, taking whatever music they find and making it their own. Live, it’s impossible not to get swept along by the sheer conviction and fury of it all—and going to see them is something everyone should try at least once. It sure as hell beats watching Coldplay stare at their shoes.