Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Goni Riskin
Gogol Bordello :: 12.19.09 :: Hangar 11 :: Tel Aviv, Israel
In many ways, Israel is the perfect place for Gogol Bordello. A mix of punk rock and Eastern European gypsy music with a tinge of other multi-ethnic flavors, their music mirrors the diverse heritage woven into the fabric of Israeli society, heavy with immigrants from Eastern Europe and North America, but indeed also from all over the world. Made up of a Ukrainian, two Russians, a Scot of Chinese descent, an American, an Ethiopian, an Ecuadorian, and well, an Israeli, the members of Gogol Bordello might as well have been pulled off any random public bus recklessly surging through downtown Tel Aviv. The manic theatricality with which flamboyant frontman Eugene Hütz conducts their shows is reminiscent of an army drill, something to which all Israelis can relate (given their requisite army service). The stage performance these guys put on certainly requires the strength and endurance of a solider, constantly running around the stage and engaging in circus-like tomfoolery.
Outside Hangar 11 on a balmy December night in Tel Aviv, the Israeli versions of punks and miscellaneous hip youths gathered – a curious phenomenon one might think given that Israel is thousands of miles away from punk rock's birthplace, situated in a part of the world that often tends to harbor a less than amicable attitude towards Western culture. A country built upon immigration, Israel actually represents what is likely the strongest enclave of Western culture in the Middle East. Despite a plain influence from regional Arab/Middle Eastern cultures, virtually any contemporary cultural movement found across Europe or North America, from punk rockers to hippies, has its Israeli analogue. Tragically, geographical inconvenience essentially isolates Israel from the iconic figures that comprise the culture that much of the country has so readily absorbed. So, when a band the likes of Gogol Bordello made its way to Israel for only the second time in six years, the punk rockers came out in droves.
Inside Hangar 11's cavernous hall the floor was already packed for opening act Boom Pam, a hometown favorite. This Israeli trio really reflects Israeli culture, synthesizing Western influences and local spiciness, combining punk and surf music with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music. I caught the tail end just in time to see Uri Brauner Kinrot wailing away on his guitar, crooning raspy Hebrew words while Yuval Zolotov held down a steady bass line on his tuba.
| Gogol Bordello :: 12.19 :: Tel Aviv|
Gogol's Oren Kaplan (guitar, backing vocals) emerged to applause from his countrymen, leading the rhythm section out onto the stage. Sergey Ryabtsev riled up the crowd with violent slashes on his electric violin, rapidly traversing the stage with fellow Ruski comrade Yuri Lemeshev, who conjured up images of the old country with squeezes of his bellowing accordion. Dressed like an outlaw rebel commander, complete with idiosyncratic mustache, Hütz ran onto the stage, acoustic guitar in hand.
Few musicians possess the stage presence Eugene Hütz (born Evgeny Aleksandrovitch Nikolaev Simonov) does. Onstage, this guy just oozes personality. The mastermind behind most of the band's music, he really brings it to life in a live setting, accompanying their energetic music with an in-your-face punk attitude topped off with frantic gypsy ravings and dance moves – like Johnny Rotten meets Michael Jackson on borscht.
"If we are here not to do/ What you and I wanna do/ And forever go crazy/ Why the hell are we even here?" yelled Hütz in his thick Ukrainian accent – a point from their latest release Super Taranta's opening song "Ultimate" that the crowd took to heart, immediately going crazy in the mosh-pit. The band meanwhile wasn't wasting anytime getting down to business, ending each song with the beginning of the next. "Drop the charges, man," yelled out Thomas Gobena (bass, backing vocals) in the last seconds of "Sally" as the rest of the band crash-landed into "Not a Crime," their not so subtle anti-drug-law anthem, inciting a cheer from the audience (JamBase readers will be pleased to hear of the relatively "420"-friendly attitude of most Israeli youths). In between choruses, Hütz and his crew haplessly rushed about the stage in all directions playing a game of musical microphones, each barely reaching a different mic just in time to yell out, "Not a crime!" Watching Lemeshev lug around his squeezebox in transit with a rapturous grin pointed at the crowd had a Yakov Smirnoff-like comedic aspect to it (in Soviet Russia, accordion lugs you!).
|Eugene Hütz :: 12.19 :: Tel Aviv|
Pedro Erazo (percussion, MC) and Elizabeth Sun (dancer, backing vocals, general randomness) only added to Gogol Bordello's already spectacular showmanship. From time to time Erazo relinquished his collection of toys at the back of the stage to rap for us while Sun pranced around banging cymbals together, changing outfits throughout the night.
A trio of "Through The Roof N' Underground", "Start Wearing Purple" and "Think Locally, Fuck Globally" came out, consecutively and seamlessly, each more energetic than the last, to end the show on a high note. The more hectic the music got the more the mosh-pit reciprocated, its boisterousness rippling throughout the whole crowd. One last trick up his sleeve, Hütz brought out the fire bucket, beating out fairly impressive drum fills on its tinny bottom.
A solitary Hütz returned to the stage to start the encore, dazzling us with a gypsy guitar solo, while providing his own percussion. Switching gears, he sang the lamenting "Alcohol" while Ryabtsev, plucking soulfully, and Lemeshev jauntily strolled back out. Slowly but surely the rest of the band returned. "Indestructible" gave us one final taste of what this band is truly made of.
There is a core and it's hardcore
All is hardcore when made with love
Love is a voice of a savage soul
This savage love is
"Undestructable!" repeated the band and audience in unison at the top of their lungs while Erazo surfed the crowd on his bass drum until he dove headfirst into awaiting hands. Gogol Bordello may hail from all over the world but what irrevocably links the members is an indestructible bond – at heart they are all punk rockers. And like true punk rockers, these guys put absolutely everything on the table, leaving us with a sense of savage love. Dripping sweat, ears bleeding, I took that feeling home with me and bottled it. Israel, this little cultural island, won't be seeing the likes of Gogol Bordello again for quite some time.
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