Let me begin by saying that Gogol Bordello fucking rocks.
I have been waiting to see the legendary gypsy punks for six years now, and their show at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, N.Y. on Friday, April 1 definitely didn’t disappoint. I have been to a myriad of different concerts over the years, and it would be tough to say whether anybody I have seen could best Gogol on stage.
For those of you who don’t know Gogol Bordello, let me enlighten you. The band combines Ukrainian folk with American punk rock: Think The Pogues if they had grown up under a red flag instead of on the Emerald Isle.
Eight members strong, Gogol consists of musicians from all corners of the globe. On stage were Ukrainian frontman and acoustic guitarist Eugene Hutz, Russian violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, Isreali electric guitarist Oren Kaplan, Russian accordionist Yuri Lemeshev, Ethiopian bassist Thomas Gobena, Ecuadorian percussionist and emcee Perdo Erazo, American drummer Oliver Charles and Chinese-Scottish drummer Elizabeth Sun.
After a somewhat lengthy stage change following the exit of the opening band, Forro In the Dark, the long-awaited main act took the stage. They rocked and rolled through a two-hour-long set, and had the entire venue drenched in sweat and dancing from the word “go.”
And, lest you pigeonhole Gogol with most of the other punk bands today, their set was one of the tightest live acts
I have ever heard — and that isn’t easy when you have a violin and an accordion going toe-to-toe with guitars, bass and drums. Every instrument, including Hutz’s acoustic guitar, was audible at all times.
The roar and crash one would expect was there, but as a whole the band wasn’t quite as blaring as I thought they would be. This sure seemed to work in their favor, as I could actually hear every instrument at any given time. Where most bands are quick to crank the bass end of the musical spectrum, Gogol was balanced perfectly.
My only complaints about Gogol’s set are minor ones, but ones worth mentioning nonetheless. Firstly, they opened with “Tribal Connections,” which was an odd, and slow, way to start off the evening. Secondly, the band pulled most of the songs from their most recent album, “Trans-Continental Hustle,” which is sadly their weakest work.
Sure, they played through almost half of the major label debut, giving fans live renditions of “Pale Tute,” “My Companjera,” “Immigraniada,” “When Universes Collide,” “Raise the Knowledge” and “Break the Spell.”
All of the songs are tried and true Gogol tracks, yet just aren’t anywhere near the strength of their older songs, and it was interesting to see them rely so heavily on the newer songs for their set. Still, there is sometimes no finer statement than when a band has such good material and is so strong live that even their worst songs are wonders to behold on stage.
But with such a vast, strong back catalog, I was left wondering why some staples seemed to be missing. Where was “Sally,” “Punk Rock Parranda” or “Harem in Tuscany?” And while I’m dreaming, “Unvisible Zedd” would have been great to see as well.
And, perhaps venue constraints — or dare I say it, age? — have finally caught up to Hutz, but, despite the tall tales that I’ve read about time and time again, during this concert he never managed to do anything like climb his mic stand. It was wild, and one of the most intense and extreme shows I’ve been to, but it seems Gogol may be letting the music speak for itself a little more than in the past.
Gogol ended the night with an impressive two encores, including their take on the traditional Irish folk tune “Dirty Old Town” and Hutz’s acoustic version of “Alcohol.”
The fact of the matter is that it didn’t really matter what songs Gogol chose, or really what they played. The band sweatily and passionately gave their best in a performance that would make mice out of most other bands trying to be men.
The show was an onslaught of ethnic culture combined with the passion and raw sexual energy of a true bordello. It was the ultimate perfection of live musical performance and showmanship.Gogol proved without a doubt that they are one of the best live acts playing music today, and I hope that next time I don’t have to wait as long or drive as far to get to see them again. As the band would say, make sure to start wearing purple, and always remember to think locally and fuck globally.
Clark is a member of the class of 2012