Gogol Bordello


April 23, 2005

Who was this older man wearing spectacles and plaid cloth? It was Gogol Bordello accordionist Yuri Lemeshev, and after I entered the conversation he was having with two of my younger woman friends, it was obvious he was hitting on them. Which was interesting because as I repeatedly attempted to tell him I was excited about the show, I realized he barely spoke any English. I guess the power of being in a band spans all languages. I thought it strangely funny he was wearing a "$1 Moustache Rides" shirt, considering he was Russian, but then again, I didn't know how decadent Russians could be until I saw Gogol Bordello. Very soon this man who I deemed weaker for having a poor grasp of English would be a part of one of the best shows I'd ever seen(Funny story: My friend also has a "$1 Moustache Rides" Shirt, and a woman approached and asked, "Only a dollar?" He replied, "Actually, it's false advertising. They're free.").

Not everyone in Gogol Bordello is Russian. They all live in NYC now, but fiddle player Sergei Riabtsev is Russian, vocalist Eugene Hutz is from the Ukraine, guitarist Oren Kaplan and saxophonist Ori Kaplan(not related) are from Israel, and drummer Eliot Fergusen is from the U.S.

They played raw music with anti-establishment themes at Twiropa Saturday night. It was Brecht-ian theater. I had been told by many people how "great" Gogol Bordello was, but I was skeptical. My skepticism was erased two seconds into the set, and afterwards I understood how people could follow the band around the country.

They played belly dancer gyspy music mixed with punk, metal, Latin, Jamaican Dub, and more. With a sumptuous mix of dance music combined with a passionate vocalist and flamboyant theatrics, the concert possessed an inescapable energy. During one song, hook-filled metal cymbal crashes were followed by a quiet monologue over the accordion. Then, it was back into the mixture of dance chaos.

After two songs, I had to ditch the mosh pit up front and sweat discreetly in the back. The level of emotion and the celebration of humanity was too intense up front. Too wonderfully intense. People were jumping all over the place, spilling drinks on each other.

Hutz was inciting the crowd, leaning into them from his perch on a sound monitor. He was very confident and charismatic. He had me believing the counter-culture was the better one with rebellious tantrums that were more convincing than the best evangelist's. The Bywater people must have been loving it. He was seemingly singing for his life, screaming like he had nothing to lose and this was the last night of his life. Like, "Let's party, heh?" He cried out one moment for mercy and then was possessed by pleasurable demons the next. He was taken with anti-mainstream vitriol. He knew he was right, and he knew he was right in the middle of the storm. Exactly where he should have been. It was hard for me not to take a ride with someone so caught up in the music and so intent on giving me every inch of his lungs. He spit, lifted his arms in anger, and held court from atop the huge onstage amps. Then, he jumped off just as quickly as he had jumped on.

The show possessed a raw essence of life and the wonder of unpredictability. It was an end of the world party, but I didn't have to pay for the end of the world.

Gogol Bordello's suggestions for living in the moment and recognizing life's fleeting nature were addressed in the lyrics for "Start Wearing Purple": "Start wearing purple for me now/All your wits and sanity/They will all vanish/I promise/It's only a matter of time." Their other lyrics had humorous contempt for bourgeois tendencies.

Near the end of the concert, two women dancers clashed cymbals onstage and hauled around a large bass drum for the more celebratory numbers. It was a party, for sure. One woman from the audience jumped onstage and removed her top, sang at the same mic with Hutz, and then danced behind the drummer. There was a crazy vibe going on.

After the show, a friend emerged from the front covered in sweat. He wrung out his t-shirt onto the pavement outside Twiropa.

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