Gogol Bordello: Good New Album, Really Good Live Band

Gogol Bordello w/ DeVotchka
Congress Theatre – Chicago, IL
April 23, 2010

If you regularly read about either Dr. Dog or Gogol Bordello, you are probably real real sick of these two bands being compared to each other.  More likely they never have been; although, they do share the “playing music with guitars” commonality.  I am comparing them because these are to two most recent shows I’ve seen this April.  For Dr. Dog, I paid close attention the set list and the manner in which the new songs were performed.  Some songs rock a lot harder than others with Gogol Bordello, and you can tell that the crowd expects the incredible “Start Wearing Purple,” but in the end, the order of their songs and their overall song selections aren’t that important.  I can’t always distinguish specific lyrics, nor do I know all of their songs.  I have heard all of their albums, including the new Rick Rubin-produced fifth studio effort, and found them all to be enjoyable.  Their songs are built for the stage, and the quality of their show relies much more on energy and entertainment than sophisticated/instrumentally-tight song execution.

Gogol and the opener, DeVotchka, take a separate stage approach; however, the two are billed very well together for one major reason – them being strangely from the US.  Gogol Bordello is tagged with the “Gypsy Punk” label (featured on the huge banner backdrop), while DeVotchka seems Italian and operatic – in a recent interview DeVotchka’s Jeanie Schroder told Denver.org that they mix “…classical, mariachi, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, burlesque, eastern European music – it all got blended together somehow,” later adding, “Gogol Bordello and other bands have similar ideas – kind of that circus-y sound, or the drunk-at-an-Italian-wedding sound.”  I think the Italian aspect comes out DeVotchka in their must-hear covers EP Curse Your Little Heart, especially on the killer Sinatra cover of “Something Stupid.”  It comes as a surprise to many that these bands are in fact American.  Never have I heard of a band, or at least one with any indie-relevance that I can think of, from Denver.  While New York has such diversity, Gogol band definitely sounds like something foreign to the US.  The second reason for the two being placed together nicely is that they both rock.

I can’t say for sure if it was sold-out, but if not it was really close.  I sat down (I know, lame) for the show, which was still pretty exciting, knowing that otherwise I’d have to put up with getting my foot stepped up on countless times in the eighty-minute mosh, and probably not get any closer than people-row 18.  It was great watching the crowd totally absorbed in the show enjoying their crowd-surfing time.  Even pre-show the crowd really got into the Flogging Molly and like bands playing on the PA.  I always love going to the Congress Theatre, but are into so few bands who make it to this level of fame.  I think, in the Indie-World, playing at the Congress means you’ve made it (see Passion Pit, Vampire Weekend, Franz Ferdinand, etc).

My friend said that about half of the time lead Gypsy-Punker Eugene Hütz uses his guitar like a prop and it becomes completely drowned out among his seven other band members, which features two drummers, a violin, an accordion, and bass primarily. Hutz dresses the Gypsy punk the best, although he was shirtless the majority of the time.  Early in the set, if not the opener, was “Ultimate,” the lead track for the 2007 album “Super Tarantula.”  The single from that same album was a simple choice, dominating as expected, coming third in their set and really getting the ball rolling with its party-inducing circus of a chorus.

Hut z had a cool thing going with the crowd in which he’d act helpless that he didn’t have the power NOT to throw such a kickass party and would half-heartedly say, “OK…let’s do this fuckin’ thing,” each time getting more and more into it.  A cool personal moment in the show was when my friend and I both said at the same time “Well that was definitely the best song so far.”  That song would show off the more songwriting-based acoustic side of Gogol, and that song is one I can’t find the song title for, sadly.  I’ll get back to you.  Reggae elements also exist in the occasional song, and are always a welcomed treat.

I want to talk about the new album.  I’ve been giving it a few spins.  One of the new ones played was “Rebellious Love,” which isn’t a big departure from anything in their catalogue.  To me, this song which comes fourth on the album, marks the song before where the disc takes off.  I think the second half is lop-sided with the majority of the good songs.  Like I mentioned before, I had a hard time deciphering some songs, and are at the mercy of looking up lyrics now and trying to pan out which songs were played.

From the new album, Trans-Continental Hustle, the songs that stick out to me immediately are “Immigraniada” – a chant-heavy song that boasts the mulit-vocalist claim “We’re coming rougher everytime” and lyrics like “In corridor, school of tear-gas, our destines change everyday.”  Another one is “Raise The Knowledge” that gives the band a five-minute breather, with lyrics that tie into the interwoven Revolution theme, like the opening line, “Revolution is internal/Help yourself at any time;” this playful mid-pace song has a see-saw jumpy guitar line that serves as the song’s backbone.  A cool call and response element makes this a fun one to perform live.  Three in a row also struck my fancy in my initial listen coming at a strange part in the album to put your heavy-hitters (the end).  The first of the trio is “To Rise Above,” which really comes together at the 0:42 second mark, and then again at 1:04 with another turn.  This one gets repeat play on my Pod the most so far.  I’ve seen the word frenetic a lot in my Gogol Google searches; “In The Meantime in Pernambuco” certainly adds to this adjective.  This one is immediately appealing to fans of this genre and needs the least amount of explaining.  The breakdown is almost comical, and I can only imagine all of the fun they creating jams like these in the studio.  Pernambuco is in Brazil, which according to Wikipedia is where Hutz has lived since 2008, which marks the last time Gogol has had a new record.  “Break The Spell” is the last song I am focusing on.  This one was played live and was well-received by the crowd.  The lyrics that open this bouncy anthem-ish story is [please excuse this if part of this is misheard – you still get the gist]”Just because I come from Romakemp(????) of the hill, they put me in the school for mentally ill,”  and ends with the most Rock N Roll lyrics of the album, the repletion of “You Love Our Music, but you hate our guts.”

“Pala Tute” came at the end, and is the best new song that I didn’t mention.  Hutz had a profound statement, he said after playing a batch of new tunes, “So…the new ones – on the other hand, see if you can remember this one,” as he launched into a song first driven by his horribly out of tune acoustic guitar.  I was able to recognize it! “Through the Roof ‘N’ Underground” was the song, and it was played much harder and remained beautiful.  As the show was ending and the band would huddle together in great collaboration, I’d think they were jamming out for their pre-encore finale.  This went on for several songs, and the show didn’t end till around midnight.  The security guards were really put to the test this night – never more on Gogol’s best, “Start Wearing Purple,” in which one of the audience members made it to the stage, which would be the cause for Hutz to dedicate and direct his start wearing purple command to the security guard.  I could really go on for much longer – but I’ll instead choose to end with the “It was an awesome awesome well-spent time, and one I recommend you to check out their live show (as well as the new album” cop-out.

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