By Jessica Renk
I knew when the guy next to me put Band-aids over his nipple rings. I knew during the opening act, when a dancer hung from a scarlet curtain and contorted herself into an upside-down split twelve feet above the stage. I knew by the energy that was building in the crowd before Gogol Bordello even put a pinky toe on the stage that it was going to be a wild night. And it was.
In case you’ve been under a rock for the last ten years, Gogol Bordello sounds like Eastern Europe-reggae-Latin on amphetamines. The lineup includes a Ukranian singer, a Russian violinist, a Russian accordionist, an Ethiopian bassist, an Ecuadorian MC, an Israeli guitarist, two Asian-American dancer/percussionists, and an American drummer who wears a kilt. They are the original gypsy punks, and they tore up Electric Factory back in May with their unique brand of international madness.
They played several songs from their new, Brazilian-inspired album, Transcontinental Hustle, including Pala Tute, which is just about as infectious and joyous as a song can be. Gogol Bordello is not the band that one turns to for thoughtful melodious love songs, but the new album does include one, Sun Is On My Side, and it was well-received. Every single band member played with balls-out passion: Sergey Rhyabtsev worked that violin till hairs broke off his bow and lead singer Eugene Hutz was approximately fifty-four times larger than life.
People in the back standing still, I do not understand you. The party was down front, where both the young and the not-as-young, and the shirted and the shirtless bounced, jumped, hugged, yelled, and screamed together with an intensity bordering on group orgasm.
GB wrapped up the night with a riotous medley that included crowd favorites, “Start Wearing Purple”, “Sally”, and “Undestructable.” When MC Pedro Erazo took a running dive into the audience, everybody felt it. Some even experienced the Gogol Bordello after-effect: involuntary dancing long after the band left the stage and the lights came up. Whe-pah!
Afterwards, I talked to some bouncers to see just how far my photo press pass could take me, which as it turned out, was not very far.
Me: Where’s the after-party?
Bouncer: Don’t know.
Me: I’ve got this red wrist-band, see?
Bouncer: Go home.
Undeterred, I walked around back, where throngs of teenage girls were waiting to catch a glimpse of Eugene. I mistook the opening act singer for the Gogol Bordello guitarist Oren Kaplan.
Me: That was better than sex.
OAS: Do you know who I am?
OAS: Opening act.
Me: Oh. Sorry. It was good but that not good.
But apparently, I said the magic word, because he brought me backstage under the condition that I not “geek out.” Gogol Bordello was eating ziti and drinking champagne (even rock stars get ziti and fruit salad). It was the last night of the US limb of the Casa Gogol tour, and they seemed ready to rest before heading off to Europe for the summer.
Eugene, who could easily convince his followers to drink poison Kool-Aid if he so aspired, held court about topics as varied as the inanity of music reporter questions, crowd-surfing twelve-year old fans, and Madonna’s secret nickname. I learned that a Czech alcohol called Becherovka is the key to understanding his film performance in Everything is Illuminated. The curtain dancer was not amused when I told her I wanted her job.
I could have asked bassist Tommy Gobena about the Latin influences on the new album, but instead our conversation went like this:
Me: What did you get kicked out of the Bowery for?
Me: During or after the show?
Me: Are you still banned?
TG: No, we could play there if we wanted to, but it’s too small.
Me: Where’s your favorite place to play?
I talked to the tour bus driver as well, who disclosed that driving rocks stars around the country is not unlike chauffeuring small children, except that time-outs don’t work as well. When I left around 2 AM, there were still throngs of teenage girls waiting to catch a glimpse of Eugene.
“You gotta branch out,” I told them. “Tommy is really cool.” But they didn’t want to hear it. Like a lot of women these days, they only had the Hutz-hotz.