Marathon of Music & Madness at Gogol Bordello
Gogol bordello is one of my favorite bands. They stand somewhere in the middle of an eclectic mix of rock, punk, gypsy jazz, and folk genres. I love everything about them- from Eugene Hutz’s eastern European-accented lyrics, to the mad 50-year-old violinist, known as Sergey Ryabtsev, who
shreds better with his violin than most guitarists can with their guitars. So, needless to say the three hour trek I took to NYC’s Webster Theater last week to see them live was more than worth it in my eyes.
I had seen Gogol once prior in Boston and it was quite possibly the best show I had ever attended. They played for over two hours with such ferocious intensity, and I was curious to see if they would reach the bar they set so high the last time. The band did indeed reach the bar, and even raised it when they played an encore so climactic that I am still recovering today.
If I had to give an immediate response to what a Gogol concert is like, my first thought would be “taxing.” Given the intensity of the crowd and the consistency of high-energy music, you will find yourself perspiring excessively within 20 minutes of the start of the show. You will be covered in not just your own sweat, but the sweat of all those around you. You may also experience the occasional splash of water, most certainly a spillage of beer, and once in awhile a dash of blood.
Initially, this may not sound appealing. But I assure you once you are in that churning mass of an audience rocking out to a European gypsy-jazz musical number such as “Mishto!”, your notions of self preservation and decency are quickly forgotten. Alcohol helps with this process. And since I was running on about four hours of sleep in a 48 hour period, I was ready and willing to submit myself to the concert gods and forfeit control of my body and nutrients.
Despite my exhaustion stemming from the absence of sleep, I was immediately energized by Eugene Hutz’s ability to channel a rebellious and wild spirit from some unknown beacon into the crowd. The band started with a softer acoustic version of “Avenue B” which I can only adequately describe as “the calm before the storm,” because at the point from which that song ended and the band broke into the menacing violin strings of “Sally,” the concert was a riot of energy and music. I cannot tell you the order of the songs, all I can say is that my memory of what was played is as disbarred and discombobulated as my physical and mental state during the concert.
The night is full of disembodied floating memories of people surfing through the crowd, humans launching themselves off the stage, and the odd sensation of being in a biological ball pit. There are random flashes of peoples’ glasses and shoes being lost to the effigies of the rock crowd and the occasional circle of people folk dancing amidst the chaos. One of my friends I was with lost both of his shoes and his glasses within 15 minutes of the start of the show and I also found myself grasping wildly a few times as my shoes tried to escape with the undertow of the crowd. It was a bit like being in the ocean when a storm was going on. Except the water is a constant 98.6 degrees and everything smells like feet and beer.
Being at a Gogol Bordello concert is a bit like running a marathon. By the end of the show you are sweating profusely, your muscles ache from supporting yourself amidst the crowd, and your nutrients are severely depleted. And just when you think you can’t possibly go on any further and you yearn to cross that finish line, it is extended another mile and you happily-yet begrudgingly- go along with that notion because though it means the deterioration of your stamina and energy, it means more music. This is very true of the band’s encore performance last week in NYC.
At the start of the encore they played “Alcohol,” a light acoustic song, and was a very welcome breather for the crowd to prepare themselves for the tumult that was to come. After “Alcohol” Hutz declared they would be doing one last song off their album to be released soon which was both a relief and saddening because though I wanted to see them play more I was also ready to lose consciousness. However, once they finished the new song they broke into what I can only describe as a mix of all the best parts of all their best songs. It was an amazing amalgamation of “Mishto!” “Ultimate,” “Baro Foro,” and some improvisation in between.
Every time you thought they were building to a close or that the instruments were going to ring out into silence, they broke into a new movement of music that sent the crowd to a higher level of frenzy that was thought unattainable just a few minutes before. At the peak of the musical jubilation amidst violin strings, chanting mistresses, accordion solos, and Hutz’s insanity, one of the band members began feeding a big drum out onto the crowd. He then cautiously made his way onto the drum and proceeded to stand on it as if it were a hover-disk kept afloat by the grasping hands of the audience, pumping his fist to the music and chants until finally leaping off into the crowd. It was a raucous experience and one that was amazing on every level.
When the music finally came to a close I was left exhilarated, exhausted, euphoric, and sweaty (as I’m sure most of the crowd who subjected themselves to the thick churning center mass of the audience were). It was a show that I would gladly have paid more money to see and one I would happily drive an extra hundred miles to attend. Having your hair soaked in sweat and your fingers pruned without having been submersed in water may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But if casting yourself into a crazy audience for a crazy show is your idea of a good night, make sure to catch Gogol Bordello next time they are around.