I first saw Gogol Bordello almost exactly eight years ago, and that was honestly one of the most fun and memorable gigs I’ve been to. So when this rowdy transcontinental gypsy-punk eight-piece collective showed up in Melbourne once again, I jumped at the chance to catch them in concert.
I wish I felt a bit better on the night, as I had a shocking sleep the night before and my back has been feeling sore lately, but all things considered I held up pretty well. I got to 170 Russell just in time to see the last of the warm-up band, a funky brass outfit who played a cover of Toto’s Africa; a bizarre coincidence since the radio hosts at Triple J on my way to the city randomly mentioned this song.
At first I wormed my way to the front, where I stood next to a bunch of loud Russians (or Russian-speakers at least); but once the band came onstage things got pretty rough very quickly, with the floor turning into a heaving jumping mass of pressed bodies. I had fun revisiting my late 20s getting crushed in the mosh pit for a couple of songs (including Not A Crime, one of my favourites), before deciding that I’d rather not worry about losing my ballet flats and having other people’s elbows shoved in my face. Besides, the sound at the front was pretty crappy and distorted. So I moved further back, where some of the immediacy and energy was diminished, but the crowd was more chilled. I have to give the band props though for making even the back of the venue jump and sing along with the more popular songs.
Though the energy of the entire band is infectious, the heart and soul of Gogol Bordello is its enigmatic frontman and showman extraordinaire, Eugene Hutz, a Ukrainian-born whirling dervish with Gypsy roots. A Gogol Bordello concert is worth attending for his charismatic and eccentric stage presence alone. He came onstage wearing a white top with a black waistcoat and a bunch of red roses strapped to the waist. He gave away the roses to the front rows, and gradually lost his waistcoat and shirt. Later in the gig, he clambered atop a big bass drum for a bit of crowd surfing, and doused himself from the bottle of red wine he was drinking throughout the gig. A character alright. The band had shed some members in the eight years, but their scene-stealing, beret-wearing Russian violinist is still around.
Start Wearing Purple was the highlight of the night and got the biggest response from the crowd (I felt a tiny bit smug knowing that I was one of the few people who could sing and understand the Russian parts of the song), but another unexpected memorable moment was a melancholic Gypsy ballad that Hutz performed solo on an acoustic guitar during the encore. I probably would have preferred more of these quieter moments; as exhilarating and explosive as the band is, their music can get a bit samey over a long stretch. Hutz sarcastically dedicated the acoustic song to the chatty people at the very back, who wouldn’t shut up as they obviously had very important things to discuss, like bitcoin investments. I hate people who loudly blab at concerts too.