Gogol Bordello House of Blues April 12, 2011
Check out our pics of the Gypsy punks.
Maybe a Jolly Roger would have helped.
Tuesday night at House of Blues, Gogol Bordello had the captain's wheel, center stage. They had the ocean, in the form of the seething pit of humanity down front. The set had exotic ports of call to spare - Spain, the Middle East and especially the Caribbean.
But they were missing something important, something odd given the group's catholic backgrounds, outsider ideology and "gypsy punk" paintbrush Eugene Hutz and his motley crew apply so enthusiastically to their music. But that's what made its absence so conspicuous.
The missing element? Variety.
Don't get Aftermath wrong; Gogol Bordello put on a good show. The entire eight-piece group barely stopped moving for a second, and Hutz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, especially, seemed determined to keep stoking the crowd's ravenous energy until it killed them - which, if they kept it up much longer than the 90 minutes and change Gogol was onstage (with a couple of breathers), it may well have.
But until "Last One Goes the Hope," the seventh song of the set, Tuesday's show felt like the same thing over and over again. A flamenco guitar flourish here, a dub bass line screwing the whole thing to the floor there, some incendiary Spanish toasting from MC Pedro Erazo on opener "Tribal Connection," but you could set your watch by the rest: Folk melodies from Ryabtsev's thrusting violin, Hutz doing his manic call-and-response thing with the crowd and the rhythm section supplying the punk part of the equation.
Repeat. And repeat again. And again. With so much energy in the room, it was hard to believe anyone could feel bored, but after about the fourth or fifth time, we were. Or at least like, "What else you guys got?"
This formula obviously works for Gogol, but it's still a formula. As Aftermath told a friend, they feel like a one-trick pony, although it is a pretty good trick. Even now it feels a little churlish to criticize Gogol for it, like finding fault with a wedding band for having too much fun onstage. Unfortunately, Aftermath wasn't there to dance.
But it did get better - oddly enough, because it got longer. Or "Last One" did anyway, blending Gogol's various elements together in a way they hadn't before - developing the melody, tossing it over to accordionist Yuri Lemeshev for an echo, and topping it off with hints of "Riders on the Storm" and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." Gogol isn't the sort of band you'd think would benefit from longer songs, but it seemed like it, or at least it loosened whatever bolts had been preventing us from fully enjoying ourselves.
From there on out, it was fairly smooth sailing through a couple of more wild singalongs ("Trans-Continental Hustle," "Break the Spell"), bouncing reggae virtuosity from bassist Thomas Gobena ("Immigrandia") and a campfire-ish duet with Hutz and Lemeshev on "When Universes Collide" that, before it built into a robust full-band bolero, again proved there is more to Gogol than their gypsy-punk schtick. (So did the even-keeled "Sun Is On My Side" in the encore.)
The balance of the rest was textbook Gogol with a couple of welcome twists - Arabesque vocalizing on "American Wedding" and Ryabtsev's hard left turn into "Baba O'Reilly" territory on closer "Start Wearing Purple," a singalong that put even the lustiest Oktoberfest beer hall in Munich to shame. In the encore, "Think Locally Fuck Globally" and "Sacred Darling" were simply balls to the wall, which was just fine.
And then we got a real bonus: Gogol said do svidanyia to Houston - a bit earlier, Hutz puzzled out loud over why the band doesn't visit more often - with a cover of another group who knew a thing or two about mingling folk music with punk rock: A tart and twangy duet between Hutz and Ryabtsev on the Pogues' "Dirty Old Town."
We're pretty sure they meant it as more than a personal reward to Aftermath for sticking out the more monotonous parts of the show, but please forgive us if that's how we choose to remember it.
Personal Bias: Sure sign I am getting old: I liked the reggae parts of the show more than the punk. Yikes.
The Crowd: Handlebar moustaches, gypsy skirts, plenty of beards and a few square pegs who are no doubt fully paid up on their NPR pledges.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I don't have enough money!" We also ran into Los Skarnales front man Felipe Galvan, who told us, "They're like a Ukrainian/New York Skarnales... I don't want to give it away, but they're a lot better than us." That... we're not so sure.
Random Notebook Dump: They have two speeds: Drunk and crazy.
Tribal Connection Ultimate Not a Crime Wonderlust King Immigrant Punk My Companajera Last One Goes the Hope Trans-Continental Hustle Immigrandia (We Comin' Rougher) Break the Spell When Universes Collide American Wedding Pala Tute Start Wearing Purple
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Sun Is On My Side Think Locally Fuck Globally Sacred Darling Dirty Old Town (Pogues cover)