April 8, 2011
It was almost sundown on a beautiful spring afternoon in Memphis Tennessee at the heart of Midtown on Madison Avenue in a place called Minglewood Hall, the hall that would host Gogol Bordello later in the evening. Being the city’s most impressive mid-sized venue, it subsequently hosts the majority of notable shows that don’t require stadium seating. At the time, the building was mostly empty, sans a few event staff members and band associates.
As show time drew closer, the lobby became sprinkled with hardcore fans, presumably arriving early to ensure a spot in front, all waiting for the post-sound check Gypsy punk madness to ensue. As time passed, the lobby slowly filled with a variety of strange folk. There were music nerds, punk rockers, Goth kids, hippies, blue-collar types and what seemed to be actual Gypsies. Gogol Bordello fans clearly transcend labels.
There are no seats in the main stage area, which is ideal for the shows that take place there. After some serious standing around, the production was finally under way. The lights dimmed in direct correlation to the crowd’s level of excitement. It was just past eight o’clock when the opening act hit the stage.
The Constellations are a band from Atlanta, GA. Their style is a mixture of psychedelic rock, electronica, blues, hip-hop… it’s all over the place. The fusion of genres did make for an interesting and original sound and the crowd seemed to really dig it. In short, they kicked things off properly, getting everyone pumped up for the evening’s main attraction.
Gogol Bordello is a difficult band to categorize. Their style has been self-described by the band as “Ukrainian Gypsy Punk Cabaret,” a brief yet remarkably accurate explanation of their collective works. They combine traditional Gypsy folk music with punk rock and dub in an unprecedented fashion.
Violin and accordion stand out amongst the typical “guitar, bass and drums” setup. But it is the lead vocals and lyrics that stand out more than anything, and it is Eugene HÃ¼tz, the man with the immaculate mustache who is responsible for both. His accent is awe-inspiring and often hilarious. If HÃ¼tz were to casually utter the phrase “I like you, I like sex, is nice!” it would result in a spot on Borat impression. His appearance is reminiscent of Daniel Day-Lewis’ character Bill “The Butcher” from Gangs of New York in a very Zappa-esque sort of way.
The intensity of Gogol Bordello’s show was on this night, as on most others, unprecedented. There is absolutely nothing like it. The high energy level on stage has become habitual for the ensemble led by Eugene. There is just no time for a dull moment. HÃ¼tz is amongst giants in terms of his ability to captivate and is a true rock star in every sense of the word.
The head gypsy was vocally on point the entire night and his guitar work, flawless. This guy ran around the stage throughout the duration of the show as if he had consumed an entire case of Red Bull without ever appearing to tire or even get winded while singing.
As for the rest of the band, each member is a crucial part of the collective’s live performance and all-encompassing sound. Pedro Erazo serves as the groups MC/hype man, providing additional vocals, guitar and percussion. Elizabeth Sun is a stunningly beautiful female member of the group. She serves as a “hype woman” of sorts, but most importantly, Sun brings the element of sexy to the table through dance, backing vocals and percussion on various numbers. Sergey Ryabtsev plays violin and provides backing vocals along with frequent happy facial expressions. Yuri Lemeshev handles the accordion duties and provides backing vocals as well. Oren Kaplan, one of the more reserved members of the group, takes care of all electric guitar work, and provides backing vocals. Oliver Charles, the technically precise drummer, makes up one half of the bands outstanding rhythm section with the other half being Thomas Gobena, aka “Tommy T”, the exceptionally inventive bass player, who also provides backing vocals.
The place was nearly full as the roadies added the finishing touches to the stage. Finally, it was show time. For the second time in the evening, the house lights went down and filled the hall with palpable energy, courtesy of the crowd’s anxious excitement.
Soon shadowy figures emerged from the darkness and walked across the stage to their allotted positions. The roomful of Memphis folk provided one hell of a welcoming response as the band settled in.
HÃ¼tz approached the mic wearing a low-cut sleeveless shirt that read “RIO BRASIL.” Additionally, short pants adorned with an unnecessary amount of zippers and a green striped necktie hung from his waistband. His costumed presence was powerful to say the least. Much of the crowd seemed to be in awe of the individuals that stood before them.
The eclectic band of Gypsies began the set with “Tribal Connection,” a track from their critically acclaimed album Super Taranta!. The front row was nothing but smiling faces all the way across. It was clear that the party had officially started as the set progressed and contained eight of the thirteen tracks from the band’s latest LP, Trans-Continental Hustle.
Mixed with pivotal cuts from previous albums, the highlight of the night was undoubtedly the band’s set closing performance of the fan favorite, “Start Wearing Purple.” It seemed as though every person in attendance was jumping up and down, singing the cyclically infectious hook. It was a mad scene, a raging sea of respectfully rowdy Memphians all singing and jumping in unison. The most memorable part of this performance was immediately after the song’s breakdown, where Ryabtsev sang “Start wearing purple for me now!” acapella before instantly exploding back into action with relentless fury. Wielding a bottle of red wine, HÃ¼tz’s violently jumping up and down caused sloshes of merlot to spill over both the stage and the audience. The remainder of the band was equally energetic and wild.Â It was a beautiful sight and a refreshing break from the excessive popularity of dubstep in the local music scene. It was a prime example of what a concert should be, whereas watching some guy play around on a Mac Book in front of some “Pretty Lights” doesn’t cut the mustard, or at least not to the extent that this did.
After “Start Wearing Purple” and the reprise of “Break the Spell,” the band put down their instruments. There was no way in hell the show was over yet, but they said goodnight and left the stage thought it was and is doubtful that anyone in the crowd actually believed it was really over.
The mob quickly began chanting “GOGOL!” over and over again. Shortly thereafter, violinist Serjey Ryabtsev emerged from the shadows and grabbed an acoustic guitar. Guitarist Oreu Kaplan soon joined him, along with HÃ¼tz. Ryabtsev began playing the introduction to “Sun Is on My Side” as the rest of the band subsequently joined them. The slow paced and catchy folk song from the band’s latest album was the start of the 30 minute long, five-song encore.
“Alright, now that we got your attention let’s fucking party yo!” said the sweaty mustachioed Ukrainian as he instantly strummed the beginning riffs of “Think Locally, Fuck Globally.” The raunchy fast paced fan-favorite caused a ruckus. The speakers oozed punk rock as the freaks on the floor screamed and bounced around incoherently. This song coupled with the band’s debut album opening classic, “Sacred Darling” took up the majority of the encore and as the latter song presumably reached its end, they faked everyone out and started back in faster and louder than before…doing this multiple times caused very entertaining confusion.
HÃ¼tz introduced his band mates one by one, and then finally put an end to the song for good. The final performance of the night was “Alcohol,” a standout track from Super Taranta!.
It was not an unusual way to end a Gogol Bordello show, but it was definitely an appropriate one considering all the wine slinging and the wild group of tipsy concert-goers.
Fans left the show sweaty, exhausted and infinitely satisfied. A Trans-Continental Gypsy Jamboree of epic proportions had just taken Memphis by storm. The people who were there won’t soon forget how surreal the experience was. Ultimately, the spell was broken.
Tribal Connection, Not a Crime, Wonderlust King, My Companjera, Last One Goes the Hope, Trans-Continental Hustle, Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher),Immigrant Punk, Break the Spell, When Universes Collide, American Wedding, Pala Tute, Start Wearing Purple / Break the Spell Reprise
CLICK THE THUMBNAIL TO VIEW THE PHOTOS from the evening with Gogol Bordello by Matt Colvin