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Monday, May 30, 2016

Live Review: Gogol Bordello Never Fails to Impress (Even Though I've Seen Them Perform Four Times Already This Year)

Posted By on Mon, May 30, 2016 at 10:11 AM

click to enlarge gogol_final_1.jpg

There are some things you'll only see at a Gogol Bordello concert.

For instance: Frontman Eugene Hutz reaching under the legs of another band member to strum on an accordion. A bouquet of flowers being launched into the audience from a slingshot tied between the legs of one of the group's dancers. Songs transitioning into samba dance breaks. A giant metal pipe that is seemingly pulled from nowhere and banged upon with a drum stick. A weird steel drum-like instrument that makes a noise that's more animalistic than anything.

It's appropriate that the New York City gypsy punks' set Friday night at the UC Theatre in Berkeley started with a circus-like curtain raise of the band's bright yellow banner. In fact, circus as a descriptor word for the band is easy: It's flashy, in-your-face, and draws inspiration from the dance, music, and theater worlds. The result is a cornucopia of Eastern-influenced sounds that crisscross the globe — the band's members hail from Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, the U.S.A. and Belarus — that are then amplified and turned up with maximum intensity. And what other bands has two female members whose sole purpose is to run around in costumes, scream really loud, and banging on percussion?

Exactly. That's just how Gogol Bordello does things. The fiddle flies and the accordion bellows right alongside fierce electric guitar, pounding drums, and some great low-end bass tones. It's culturally driven musical whiplash.

The band took the stage to a song I was happy to see them perform: "When The Trickster Starts A-Poking (Bordello Kind of Guy)" from 2002's Multi Kontra Culti Vs. Irony. It's an older tune — but a great one — and it actually set the stage for the night that saw the band looking backwards more than forwards.

Hutz was in rare form — even for him — leading the band through a musical, foot-stomping maelstrom of a set. He was pushing, egging even, his bands mates on, motioning for each to take to the front of the stage and show off, all the while keeping everything running like clockwork, if that clock is being furiously wound by a madman.

Hutz was busy in his own right with vocal duties, acoustic guitar strumming, and some chugging of a bottle of wine. As the night went on, his clothing gradually became less and less, but then again, you can do that when you're the ringmaster of a circus of musical gypsies.

And unlike some bands where there might be one or two members who are energetic and worth watching, every member of Gogol was entertaining to watch, and I was a little scared I'd miss something jotting notes down.

The best live bands take album tracks and refuel and fire them live, and throughout the night Gogol Bordello did just that. "Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)" became a Bordello blitzkrieg. "Through the Roof 'N' Underground" — another from Multi Kontra and far from a favorite track of mine — had new life breathed into it. Even "Rebellious Love" was given new power and lust, being led by thunderous drums, while Hutz tackled the song like a possessed man breaking free of demons.

This is my fourth time seeing them in just over a year, and I still had fun. In fact, Friday night's show was probably my favorite set I've seen the band play of late.

It was interesting to see the group pulling mostly from its older material. It didn't play a single track off of its most recent album, 2013's Pura Vida Conspiracy. I'm wondering if this was a conscious effort, or the result of some of the band's most recent touring for the Gypsy Punk: Underdog World Strike 10 year anniversary.

I was hoping that the band might pull out some new tracks on this tour — it has been three years since Pura Vida — and I do think the set could have used some new songs. The last two times I saw them were on the aforementioned anniversary tour, so the group seems to be leaning quite heavily on their back catalogue. Gypsy Punks is still quite clearly the group's best recorded effort, but there are still other newer jams it could have pulled from.

To be honest, I do think the edge and shock of seeing them live has worn off a bit. My mind has been blown seeing them live before, so I know what to expect. Kind of like a preacher giving a sermon to the converted.

And perhaps — for the sake of time and brevity — Gogol Bordello should consider trimming some of its songs down a bit (at least in terms of opening them up into jam sessions). I think it would allow the band to squeeze a few more songs into its set. But just some, as the improv nature of the show is something I wouldn't want to see taken away.

It also wouldn't be fair to call Gogol Bordello non-interactive, as the band was giving its sweaty all to the audience, but the music barely stopped to take time for anyone to breathe or Hutz to address the audience. Everyone in the band was constantly interacting with the crowd — but not directly addressing them, if that makes sense. A few words here and there could have gone a long way. I'm also wondering if the set got cut short (on the last number one of the stage hands ran a set list to Hutz), especially since Hutz didn't even take time to introduce the other band members.

But then again: this is nuanced stuff for a band that is still a powerhouse and behemoth on the stage.

After the encore, the band members all lined up and took a bow just like in theater. Gogol Bordello is one of the best live acts out there, and even though it didn't have much new going on and lacked in terms of surprises (again, though, I've seen them A LOT recently), it was still great, as always.

Critic's Notebook:
-I'm curious if Gogol's electric guitarist was actually high as fuck, as his t-shirt said, which would make his energy and dashing around the stage even more impressive.

-This was my first time at the newly-reopened UC Theatre, and the sound was pretty ace.

-As I walked out, they were handing out free gig posters for this show, which is an awesome idea that I fully support.

-Three colored Mohawks in the front row. Not bad, Berkeley.

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Willie Clark


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