Gogol Bordello at Riot Fest 2012 | Photos and live music review
I first saw Gogol Bordello at Toad’s Place, a popular, little club in New Haven, CT. I was in high school, not yet much of a drinker, and the crowd was one of the rowdiest and most intoxicated I’d ever seen. I remember being a bit nervous at first. I crowd surfed for the first time—before the band had even started. And for the first couple of tunes, I feared for my life. But once I got my sea legs, that show turned into one of the greatest parties I’ve attended to this day. And on Sunday night, Gogol Bordello threw the single greatest outdoor shindig it has been my privilege to attend, beating Andrew WK at his own game—mostly because they weren't trying so damn hard. Gogol Bordello already is a party; they don't have to write songs about it to convince us.
I don’t want to belabor the European “Gypsy” element of Gogol’s live show, as it’s only a piece of their brilliant equation and they are, technically, from New York. But part of what makes Gogol Bordello so powerful, spectacular, and, most of all, accessible, is the fact that this music takes us out of our comfort zone. It’s got a sinister element, odd changes, beats that couldn’t sound more out of place in an American club setting, and Eugene Hutz’s accent is nothing if not thick. But it is this very notion of alienation that unites the Gypsy punks’ audience and kills a concertgoer’s inhibitions. There is no cool way to dance to this music. Therefore, anything goes. Just ask Iggy Pop: discomfort works.
I weep for anyone who didn’t work their way to the pit for this one. I really do. I have never experienced anything like a Gogol Bordello mosh pit, and I probably never will again. I saw pogoing, klezmer dancing, a sweaty man in the top half of a fuzzy Simba costume, a near-constant circle pit, and many a shirtless dude and dudette—all of them friendly as can be. Gogol Bordello managed to galvanize their crowd in ways most bands will never achieve, through songs most bands don’t know how to write—and not just because they aren’t from the Ukraine.
Musicianship is a huge part of it. Everyone in this band is at the top of their game, from fiddle, to accordion, to emceeing in Spanish. But despite being a perfectly watchable and entertaining band in their own right, a Gogol show, much like an EDM concert, is all about the audience coming together. And with choruses that a newbie could memorize by their third repetition, you truly have to resist participation in order to miss out on the glory of Gogol. How do you get a crowd to party? Don’t order them to, Andrew. It makes us self-conscious. Just get the kids to dance. The rest will follow.