You might think that Gogol Bordello had their heyday circa 2005, and by now they must be washed up punks with worn out spirits. After all, how many times can they play “Start Wearing Purple,” and have it remain fresh and incendiary? However, after last Thursday at the Neptune Theatre, seeing Gogol Bordello as anything other than revolutionary would be a gross misinterpretation.
Concert goers arrived early, ready to dance with the gypsy punks. They swayed back and forth or jumped up and down to the house music, grinning ear to ear. It reminded me of one of the band’s shows in San Francisco in 2006, where the crowd went on dancing to eastern beats even after the house lights came on. Gogol have a way of lighting a fire under everyone's ass to get up and move, a reminder that dancing is an expression of solidarity, no matter where you're from or what you believe. The band themselves hail from diverse places, a testament to the power of joining together to create art.
A Tribe Called Red opened the night at the Neptune Theatre, crafting new school eastern beats with samples from diverse origins. Their weapons of choice were two laptops and a set of turntables, and they pulled from classic hip hop beats, middle eastern singing, and, oddly enough, comedian Louis C.K. could be heard discussing the absurdity of calling Native Americans "Indians," in a culturally respectful consideration that was fitting with Gogol's overarching ideas. A Tribe Called Red lulled the crowd into a trance, jolting it awake again as the beat dropped and heavier rock influences took over. They paved the way for the gypsy frenzy that was to follow.
A Tribe Called Red:
During Gogol Bordello's set, frontman Eugene Hutz whirled around the stage, a Romani flag hanging from his belt, given to him by refugees of Kosovo. Born in the Ukraine to a mother with Romani ancestors, Hutz educates listeners on the difference between the Romani people (commonly called gypsies) and the better known country Romania. The fact that the band addresses these types of deep cultural issues in its live performances speaks to Gogol Bordello’s efforts to build empathy between all peoples.
Crowd favorites included “Not a Crime,” “Wonderlust King,” “Break the Spell,” “My Companjera,” “Pala Tute,” and “Immigraniada,” in addition to the essential “Start Wearing Purple.” The band featured songs off their brand new album, Pura Vida Conspiracy, including the autobiographical tune “Malandrino,” a nickname Hutz acquired while traveling in Argentina.
According with tradition, Gogol ended their set with 2005’s “Undestructible,” an epic, drawn out breakdown of shrieking violin and clashing cymbals. The instruments peak and fall, swell and subside, over and over in an enthralling frenzy of sound. The crowd was ecstatic, wrapped up in the band’s passionate display. Over the years, Gogol have perfected a perfect storm of revolutionary poetry paired with infectious dub and punk, all cemented with gypsy rhythms.
Hutz described their ethos to the crowd, saying, “The music community worldwide is not sleeping, and you’re a good example of that Seattle. It’s a good thing, because it means the global consciousness is not sleeping. While you’re at this show, you’re not thinking about your socio-political identity. You have two hours to be who you are without all that baggage. That feeling is contagious and indestructible. The more you cultivate that feeling, the more you can take it with you into your everyday life, and that’s how music makes an actual difference.”
I left the show reassured that, though they may be older and far more popular now, Gogol Bordello remain as challenging to the status quo as they were when Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike came out in 2005. They continue to contribute to the global conversation in unique and exciting ways, and they have a damn good time doing it.
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