Gogol Bordello uses its Ukrainian roots to put on a near-perfect live show
Mary Bell for Phoenix New Times. Full slideshow.
Eastern Europe has a long tradition of communal music. It's about the culture, history, experience bringing people together in a moment through music. By contrast, much of American music is about the spectacle. It's Gene Simmons with his tongue out next to a a jet of flames. A Gogol Bordello show is both, which makes sense -- the band is fronted by Eugene Hütz, who was born in Ukraine who helped form the group while they were living in New York. He and his bandmates showed that mixture and the brilliant result at their Ogden show last night.
The communal aspect of their music was evident throughout. There was hardly a moment where the packed crowd wasn't clapping and dancing to the beat. They were happy to shout the backbeat "hey" and sing Russian words they will never know the meaning of. They listened to melodic stories of places they would never go.
Despite this community, Gogol Bordello never let the audience forget that this was a show, and their attention should be on the stage -- whether it was through Hütz ripping off his shirt and chugging a bottle of wine or a back-up vocalist standing on a speaker and seductively banging together cymbals. The show was lively and special and entertainment, and Gogol Bordello consistently showed that they are triumphant entertainers.
Mixing together folkloric Ukrainian styles of music with Western styles of rock, metal and punk in a formula the band calls "gypsy punk," Gogol Bordello put on a fierce and energetic show. While the tempos changed constantly and an undertone of something mysterious and dark was occasionally felt, the energy never faded. This was a band that was proud of their art and felt freed by their performance, and wanted the audience to feel that pride and freedom right along with them.
It's is two-thirds through the show and the audience and band are all shouting "I was born with a singing in my heart," and that line just about sums up the concert. Singing hearts. No matter the style or the subject matter, there was constantly a feeling of joy and pure passion in the band's performance. Gogol Bordello managed to create an atmosphere and a presence with the music that couldn't be repeated in the same way the next night in the next city. When he sang lines like "this is you only chance/this is your holy war," he wasn't talking about another time and place, he was talking about right then and there and fighting to feel alive and together in the present moment.
Whether members of the audience were there for his folk songs or were hardcore punk fans or had some Ukrainian ties, the band briefly brought everyone together with their music and put on one party of a show.