Midway through Gogol Bordello’s rowdy set at First Avenue on Monday percussionist Pedro Erazo took the mic, as he often did that night, to share his playful growl.
But for one moment Erazo didn’t try to boost the frenzy on the dance floor. Instead he paused to acknowledge our uncertain times. “Where there is darkness, light will always persist,” he said.
And with that inspiration, the whirl of music and celebration kicked it up a notch, because the gypsy punk spirit of Gogol Bordello is all about transcending adversity. The band’s lanky, wild-haired maestro, singer/guitarist/lovable provocateur Eugene Hütz, sought asylum in the U.S. as a teen when the Soviet Union imploded. Gogol Bordello pays homage to his immigrant experience through eastern European inspired punk and a colorful carny aesthetic.
Hütz’s musical partners, hailing from around the globe, expand upon this perspective, proving that punk has no borders. You hear all sorts of influences, from polka to klezmer, within the bounding beats.
As soon as the band tore into Monday’s opening song “Break into Your Higher Self,” an anthem about taking the bad with the good and finding peace, the audience started to surge. Its energy built in response to Hütz, who toasted everyone with red wine (sometimes splashed about), and, in turn, they fueled his seemingly tireless performance.
Hütz played guitar, sang, danced, even “surfed” on a bass drum with crowd members holding him up. And he served as rabble-rousing conductor, challenging everyone to participate with increasingly ferocious energy. Violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, accordion player Pasha Newmer, guitarist Boris Pelekh and bass player Thomas Gobena were just a few standouts in the band’s performance.
The evening featured songs from Gogol Bordello’s new album Seekers and Finders as well as its predecessors Pure Vida Conspiracy and Gypsy Punks (Underground World Strike). “Wonderlust King” was a perfect vehicle for Hütz’s rampant joy and Ryabtsev’s lilting bow work while “Alcohol” came across as a bittersweet anthem to the allure of the hard stuff. “Hieroglyph” combined world-weariness with a sense of hope: “I’m unity, I’m gravity/ I’m a warrior turned dove.”
New songs from Seekers and Finders like “Walking on the Burning Coal” and “Saboteur Blues” expressed a sense of melancholy while “Familia Bonfireball” was more of singalong, with words that inspire swinging a partner while describing the bonds that break down walls and war.
Gogol Bordello is unique – its cultural influences run deep through its music and messages in ways that no one else could emulate. And there’s more to the wildness than just having a damn good time. They make you think while you pogo, proving the potential for unity and love, even as the world seems bent on chaos.
Notes on the opener: Lucky Chops shook the rafters with a funky brass extravaganza. The five super-skilled musicians (Josh Holcomb, Daro Behroozi, Joshua Gawel, Raphael Buyo and Charles Sams) stormed the stage like marching-band members gone rogue, playing the heck out of the trumpet, trombone, tuba, saxophone and drums. Their instrumental tunes slid effortlessly between genres, from jazz to punk, psychedelic, hip hop, ska and samba. Crowd favorites included boisterous takes on pop hits like “Eye of the Tiger” and homegrown Minneapolis anthem “Funkytown.” During the Gogol Bordello set Lucky Chops contributed to a few songs, adding another layer of rhythmic mischief to the barely controlled mayhem.
The crowd: Raucous from the get-go, ricocheting into one another and singing with passion. Halloween fashion statements, including someone wearing a head-to-toe cartoon bear suit (with a sweater vest – nice touch) sipping a drink through a straw. Erazo did a double take when he caught a glimpse of the bouncing bear at stage right.
Overheard in the crowd: “We lost Sasquatch.” So many questions.
Critic’s bias: Would love to run away and join Gogol Bordello.
Random notebook dump: Hütz mused about a bumper sticker he saw that day. It said “Is St. Paul even necessary?” Boos and cheers filled the room. He pondered what would happen if Buda had the same attitude toward Pest. After the band tore through “Think Locally, Fuck Globally,” Hütz added, “I guess St. Paul is kind of necessary as a back-up, if Minneapolis can’t do it anymore.”
Break Into Your Higher Self
Not a Crime
Last One Goes the Hope
We Rise Again
Walking on the Burning Coal
Start Wearing Purple
Think Locally, Fuck Globally
Did it All
Sun on my Side