An inevitable and aesthetically complimentary pairing, Gogol Bordello and DeVotchka presented wildly different sets at the Congress Theater last Friday.
It was only a matter of time before someone put DeVotchKa and Gogol Bordello out on the road together. One would be hard pressed to think of a better pairing. The two bands share many common threads of influence yet bring distinctly unique approaches to their music. Both bands put their own spin on more traditional Eastern European music, while adding their own brand of gypsy flair, and both share an apparent love for brilliant literature (or so I infer from their band’s names). They go together a bit like an ushanka hat and a cold glass of vodka. However, musically, these commonalities appear drastically different. DeVotchKa’s music takes flight, like a bird, soaring in open air with a grace and beauty that feels cinematic and untouchable, while Gogol Bordello’s music is a bit more like a battering ram, forcing its will upon you.
Devotchka opened the show with a rolling rendition of “Basso Profundo”, the opening track from 2008’s A Mad & Faithful Telling, the band’s last release. They followed with their cover of “Venus in Furs”, and while they do not improve upon the Velvet Underground’s original (because really, who could) they do manage to completely transform the song, which is a feat in itself. The band also plucked their way through “The Clockwise Witness” and a magnificent, soaring rendition of “I Cried Like a Silly Boy”, from the Curse Your Little Heart EP.
With the opening notes from the accordion, to the musical circus that is “Vengo! Vengo!,” so began the most memorable interlude of the evening. As DeVotchka worked their way into the song, a svelte, determined female acrobat entered the stage and began climbing her way up two lines of dangling cloth. Suspended high above the stage, the music became the backdrop for her sinuous, mid-air acrobatics.
The 45-minute-long set came to a close with a flurry of songs from 2004’s How it Ends, which included “We’re Leaving”, closer “Enemy Guns”, and the title track “How it Ends”, which condenses every lovable DeVotchKa characteristic into six minutes of heart aching beauty.
There was little time to relish their set, though, as the mood quickly turned rowdier in anticipation of Gogol Bordello. Love or hate their music, a Gogol Bordello live performance will earn your respect—and at the very least, provoke enough of a response to substantively for an opinion of them.
Before their animated lead singer Eugene Hütz even took to the stage, security personnel had already begun hoisting people out of the crowd and over the front barrier. The show was every bit as raucous as one might expect from the self proclaimed “Gypsy Punks.” Touring in support of the recently released, and Rick Rubin produced, Trans-Continental Hustle, the band played many new songs along with the old, but for the most part the formula remains the same. Much like the Pogues, Gogol Bordello’s music is an irreverent, punk-inspired take on traditional folk music from their respective homelands.
The music grew a little weary over the duration of their set. While overly anthemic, the band’s energy on stage is simply too infectious to ignore. While I don’t see myself popping in a Gogol Bordello record around the house, I certainly won’t be missing their next live show.