Gogol Bordello rolled into the Wiltern on Friday night to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of their album, Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike. Gogol Bordello concerts aren’t just concerts usually. They tend to be more like live music parties, and Friday was no exception.
I’ve attended my share of Gogol shows and have always felt badly for the opening acts. It is hard to come close to the energy that the band brings. Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas opened and did a commendable job. Jessica Hernandez has the energy and presence to command a stage, and the rest of the Deltas are as solid as they come. They really had the crowd bouncing with their song, “Sorry I Stole Your Man.”
When Gogol Bordello front man, Eugene Hutz, meandered onto stage playing his guitar, the Wiltern crowd was ecstatic. The rest of the band quickly followed in, and the crowd in the pit surged forward like a tsunami as the rapid drum beats beckoned everyone to come dance as wildly as they may. Within the first few moments of the first song, I had ridden the wave from the middle of the pit to the front of the stage. When I looked behind me, all I saw was a whirling dervish of bouncing, happy Gogol Bordello fans.
The band probably made their way through all of the songs on Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, as promised but did not play them in order like a lot of bands do in concerts like these. Personally, I’d like to see a setlist of the show, because I’m not sure that they played every song on the album. Regardless, there were quite a few songs played that haven’t been on many of Gogol Bordello’s setlists since the band’s first few tours.
As the band partied their way through their songs, we all danced and sang. Alternately, members of the band rushed forward to dance or play a solo on the edge of the stage. The colors of their costumes dazzled, their energy was frenetic, their talent undeniable. Gogol Bordello was a feast for the eyes and ears.
After the ninth or tenth song, I worked my way back through the crowd during a slow song so that I could get a different experience from the show. The dancing, bouncing, and crushing weight of the front of the stage is an amazing way to experience a show but certainly not the only way. Had I waited a little longer, I could have worn the red wine that Hutz had begun waving around. Alas, with my clothes unstained from wine but sweaty from the dancing, I found myself a good vantage point a bit further back where I could get a good look at the revelers and still see the band between to ridiculously tall persons’ heads.
As the crowd began to reach fever pitch during “Start Wearing Purple,” I saw something that would slowly begin to command my attention. One of the abnormally tall guys had a girlfriend. At first, they just seemed like that couple that you encounter at most concerts that are primarily concerned with making out to the point of nausea for all witnesses not in the grip of new, passionate love. Upon further inspection, however, it became clear that the giant was in a desperate situation. He wanted to enjoy the show; she wanted his absolute attention. It was a power struggle not often seen outside of corporate takeovers, mixed martial arts bouts, and cheetahs chasing down gazelles. The sad longing in her eyes as he pulled away to watch thirty more seconds of the show and the contrast of his look of a man overwhelmed by was entertaining to quite a few of us that witnessed the interaction. I continued to watch the show and didn’t notice when he made his getaway, but he did seem to escape. Hopefully, he found a safe place to watch the rest of the show.
Soon, the band began playing songs from other albums, and excited the crowd with their love song to alcohol aptly entitled,”Alcohol.” Next, Hutz brought Jessica Hernandez back on stage, and the two did an outstanding cover of “The Ship Song” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I’ve yet to check to see if someone posted a video of the performance, but for me, this was the highlight of the concert.
When the band played “Undestructable,” the crowd began to dance ferociously again and let out a collective delighted roar when percussionist Elizabeth Sun threw her giant bass drum into the crowd. Within seconds, Sun steadied herself on the drum and rode it atop the crowd as Hutz attempted to mount the drum with her as he sang. Once back on stage, the band closed the show with “Pala Tute.”
The clock struck midnight, and the crowd wanted more. It was clear that Gogol wanted to give them more. Hutz said, “I want to play three more songs.” But alas, the crew at the Wiltern couldn’t allow it. The band lined up, rushed to the front of the stage with arms interlocked, bowed before the cheering crowd, and hung out for several minutes to hug each other and interact with people in the crowd. Had the Wiltern staff not intervened, I’m not sure when Gogol Bordello would have stopped playing. They are genuinely a band that enjoys their fans as much as their fans enjoy them.
Words: Jon Bostick
Photography: Wes Marsala