Arts & Life, Events, Music

‘Gypsy Punks’ turns 10

In the pit just before the band goes on: a concerned father shelters his teenage daughters from the rest of the crowd; a woman balances a brimming cup of beer in one hand; another guy points his phone at the stage, finger on the record button.

Bless their hearts.

Because when Gogol Bordello strikes the first chord, there will be nowhere to run or hide from the manic jumping, stomping, gyrating soup of humanity that will crash against the front rail. Friday night at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, daughters moshed, beer spilled, and any surviving video footage turned out shaky and unwatchable.

The New York-based troupe of ragtag musicians were celebrating the 10th anniversary of their breakthrough album “Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike.” Fusing a mix of international rhythms and sounds with the explosiveness of punk, the eight-piece band is impossible to categorize. Think polka band on amphetamines. Think The Clash circa 1977. Think vodka-fueled Russian wedding band. All on one stage.

Fronted by Ukrainian-born Eugene Hütz, Gogol Bordello’s supporting cast has been through a number of iterations over the years, though a few members have become mainstays such as madman violinist Sergey Ryabtsev and percussionist Elizabeth Sun.

Although members come and go, the band considers itself one big, extended family—or a “familia indestructible” as they like to put it. Keeping with that spirit, they welcomed back a few familiar faces for the anniversary tour. Dancer Pamela Racine and Eliot Ferguson, who was the band’s drummer during the recording of “Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike,” reunited with the rest of the current lineup.

The band paid homage to the album by performing it in full for the sold-out crowd. They topped off the set with an encore that included an intimate rendition of “Alcohol” and the fiddle-shredding “Pala Tute.”

Ever the showman, Hütz is something of a mix between Iggy Pop and Freddie Mercury. Typically shirtless, bearing his sinewy physique, and sporting an old-world mustache, Hütz is a dynamo with a throaty bellowing voice—reminiscent of a train station busker one might encounter in Eastern Europe.

Unabashedly political, the band stresses the importance of the collective over the individual, the universal over the particular. During Friday’s performance, Hütz told the crowd that they should not “wait for sh*t to happen” in order to come together as a community, before starting into the song “Think Locally, F*ck Globally.”

Having seen the band three previous times, their stage antics this time around seemed a bit more subdued by Gogol standards—even after a marching drum was cast into the sea of spectators, who buoyed it over their heads as Hütz stood victoriously atop the drumhead. After 16 years of gypsy punk, Gogol Bordello is still pretty nuts compared to most up-and-comers.

What’s consistent is the intense workout that’s a Gogol Bordello show. When the house lights finally came on, the audience found themselves buzzing with adrenaline and soaked in sweat—their own and everyone else’s.

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