If you ever want a shot of humanity, be it a shot in the arm or served in a glass, get thee to a Gogol Bordello concert.
There are bodies pressed against bodies, dripping with sweat, fists in the air, collisions aplenty as everybody on the floor sings along at the top of their lungs. I look around the floor and it’s as if everybody’s bodies have been fused together to form a single creature with a hundred arms and a hundred legs, just churning around in front of the stage. It looks like some kind of beast.
At least that’s what it looks like from the balcony.
As a photographer, I’m allowed to shoot from the ‘pit’ at the very front for the first three songs, then I get the boot and I’m ejected back into the general admission crowd. That kind of proximity to Gogol Bordello is like having a front row seat at a riot or a forest fire. Once the fourth song kicks in, I realize the band’s energy was contagious and I opt to put a little distance between myself and the action.
The energy is intense, even all the way up in row Y where I find my friends. So is the heat, but it’s still a lot better than it is downstairs.
On stage, Gogol Bordello is unrelenting. Even when they break between songs, they still maintain a command presence. Eugene Hutz, the band’s leader, takes the crowd in his hands from the get-go, and the crowd makes its way through each band member’s grasp and each, in turn, keeps us deftly enthralled.
Whether it is violin maestro Sergey Ryabtsev raging along with his stringed instrument that sounds like several, or Ashley Tobias’ banshee/operatic cries, or the hype machine that is Pedro Erazo, the band shares the spotlight evenly and well. It’s definitely not a Eugene and the Gogol Bordello’s experience, even though that isn’t far from their original name. (Eugene Hutz and the Béla Bartóks, if you’re curious.)
The one thing I miss from their previous shows is the presence of an accordion player. It would seem they’ve either opted to omit an accordion player following Pasha Newmer’s departure last year, or perhaps they haven’t found a candidate who can keep up with their live shows, which I imagine is akin to trying to keep up with Indy cars on a bike. The accordion made up a huge part of the band’s sound for their first 19 years, so it was noticeable, but to be fair, they still sounded great.
Their current tour celebrates 20 years as a band, which appears to be something they’re using to show their resilience and stamina, rather than resting on their laurels after two decades of hard work. If you are in a city where they’re scheduled to play, do yourself a favor and get your tickets now. And probably bring a towel.