Print this Page

World Music Features

Gogol Bordello

By Tad Hendrickson
Published March 14, 2006

New York City’s Gogol Bordello makes music an exciting proposition with its mix of Ukrainian, gypsy, punk and cabaret styles.

New York City’s Gogol Bordello makes music an exciting proposition with its mix of Ukrainian, gypsy, punk and cabaret styles. And if you care about getting doused in beer and spit on, or fear the prospect of watching the bouncing mass of audience revelers getting trashed and having a good time, the live version of the band is downright dangerous.

It’s like an artfully staged riot: a communal explosion where band and the audience leave behind the kind of wreckage one imagines the Huns, Vandals or Visigoths would if they had sacked the club. Dressed for the party, two dancers and lead singer Eugene Hutz don strange outfits and use handmade props for dramatic effect in skits worked out for the songs.

A Ukrainian Mack the Knife caught between the carousing revelry of the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan and the nihilism of vintage Iggy Pop, Hutz often opens with such seemingly show-ending stunts as launching himself like a human bowling ball across tables filled with glasses. He’s also good at scampering up whatever is climbable, often falling several feet to the ground. Sometimes he’s caught by the audience, in which case he’ll crowd surf his way from one end of the bar to the other while singing, somehow managing to avoid strangling anyone with his microphone cord.

It doesn’t take long for the crowd–populated with disenfranchised rockers, music fiends, thrill seekers and Eastern European immigrants–to get into the act. Prodigious amounts of alcohol are consumed before the show and the pace hits critical mass once the band takes the stage. Disco balls that have been hanging in a club for years often turn into glittery soccer balls. Tables are in pieces as the always-packed dance floor is expanded to accommodate the frenzied pogo-dancing.

“I don’t understand why club owners get alarmed,” says Hutz. “It’s only a couple of pieces of furniture. It’s not so much of a loss. My own equipment has been sacrificed to the performance and I’ve never worried or minded buying it again, or remaking it again. I think there is something about letting those things go. It’s more important that things burn in a cathartic fire.”

To be fair, the person hurt most often by the chaos is Hutz. But he’s not complaining: “I don’t think it’s self-destructive. I think it’s self-constructive. I think it’s very self-analyzing to see how much you can endure. I don’t think the audience is gonna buy the show if you’re not willing to go through the show with them. You really have to live it. The pure energy is only a manifestation of a certain lifestyle.”

Lifestyle music, this is not. The pogo-dancing forced the wooden floor of a Greek restaurant in New York City to pitch and bend in ways that nearly gave the owner a heart attack. He pulled the plug on the PA until the band promised to play only ballads and the crowd stopped dancing. Usually structural integrity isn’t an issue, but obviously it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

In the last three years the band has already seen its first album, Voi-La Intruder, which they originally thought would only be demo, reissued with additional tracks and recently they’ve released their newest CD,