As I dragged myself, midweek, to London’s KOKO (following a tiring day’s work) Gogol Bordello’s exciting fusion of traditional folk, and punk, couldn’t be further from my mind. But jump to 8:30pm, following a delightful and energetic set from Skinny Lister, and I was beginning to enjoy myself.
New faces began to pour in for the main event and, with the venue sold out, provision for standing was becoming tighter by the minute. In fact, by the time the house lights had dimmed in preparation for the band’s entrance, the crowd stretched right to the bar at the very back of the venue.
Cue each of Gogol Bordello’s nine members bouncing onto the stage, greeted with rapturous enthusiasm and applause. Last to appear, of course, was Eugene Hütz, trademark handlebar mustache, and acoustic guitar at the ready, as the band launched into its first number, Sally. The evening was to be a celebration of Gogol Bordello’s third album, Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, which would be played in its entirety – alongside a few other fan favourites.
From the opening first few bars to the encore, Gogol Bordello’s intense, over the top energy was ecstatic and addictive. The performance was akin to that of a circus or carnival; a melee of colourful characters wearing equally as colourful outfits, and at the centre of it all a topless Eugene sloshing red wine all over his fellow bandmates and the crowd… The stage was busy to the point that you had no idea where to look!
Dancers/percussionists/vocalists, Pamela and Vanessa, were particularly impressive to watch, clad in the most outrageous outfits, and navigating the stage with a charisma that was rivalled only by their elaborate frontman. In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, one of the dancing duo fell to the floor, lifted her legs into the air, and revealed a large elasticated band stretching from ankle to ankle. Eugene swiftly appeared with a bouquet of flowers, which he pinged into the crowd using the makeshift, human catapult – a nod to the band’s logo.
Indeed, my favourite part of the whole gig involved another choreographed instance involving Eugene and his dancing counterparts. During Dogs Were Barking, Pamela and Vanessa appeared wearing washboards on their backs, allowing Eugene to scrape his mic across the traditional percussion instruments to dazzling effect.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Gogol Bordello gig without Sergey Ryabtsev’s violin virtuosity. The band’s feverishly talented fiddle player, paired with the accordion of Pasha Newmer, is a key component to that neo-traditional Gypsy punk sound.
And the sound was spot-on. Eugene could be heard amongst the malaise of musical miscellany, and despite the genre’s lighthearted veneer, these are some serious musicians, still at the top of their game. Emerging from KOKO with fellow gig goers late on a Tuesday night said it all; you’d expect a few long faces as the realisation of a late night and an early start began to set in. But all I observed was beaming smiles and laughter, and as my companion for the night, photographer Matt Higgs said: “I think I’m high on music, man!” I couldn’t have agreed with him more.
Just don’t wear your favourite top if you’re planning on occupying the front row, because it’s going to get saturated in red wine… but then again, you’ll be too euphoric to care.