Live Review: Gogol Bordello, Philadelphia, PA, Dec. 29, 2010

Fans stomping around in combat boots and military gear too stylish to ever be permitted at an Army base crammed into the Electric Factory like a throng of frantic shoppers in front of a Walmart at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Only instead of re-reading their gift list for the 47th time and devising the best tactics for nabbing that half-price 59-inch flat screen, Gogol Bordello devotees were desperate to elbow enough room for themselves so they could flail in the drunken-pirate manner appropriate for this band’s act. While such a claustrophobic environment would significantly detract from most other artists’ performances, the infectious enthusiasm spewing from Eugene Hutz and family swallowed up the audience and didn’t allow room for crying over spilled beer. More on that later.

The nine-piece, NYC-based gypsy-punk band, fittingly conceived at a Russian wedding in 1998, is taking its caravan on a cross-country tour to promote latest album Trans-Continental Hustle. Onstage, every member displayed their musical dexterity, often switching instruments mid-song, then discarding them to spring across the platform in a bouncy march. Their furious, sometimes chaotic melodies mix swift accordion, arm-jerking violin, punk guitar, throbbing percussion and dub with Hutz’s unapologetically over-the-top, Boris Badenov, Eastern-bloc vocals.

Songs like “My Companjera” and “Raise The Knowledge” transformed the Electric Factory into a dock at a foreign port, where everyone is surrounded by cargo boxes filled with spices and perfume from the Orient and people are stumbling around slapping each other on the backs and sloshing stoneware beer steins.

Having fans using beer mugs with lids would have greatly benefited me. Three-fourths of the way through the show, as I managed to ignore the chick behind me who thought she was Hutz and screeched the words to every song so we’d know she was a true fan, I was in my dancing groove and suddenly received a Southern California-style drenching of watered-down Bud Light. I turned around to fixate my death stare on the offender, grabbed a handkerchief from a kind soul nearby to wring the mess out of my hair and debated the awkwardness of resuming dancing in my previous carefree manner after I’d just let loose a torrent of dramatic, angry verbiage. Luckily, the bassist moseyed over to our side of the stage and began urging us to clap and chant, and I soon forgot about the alcoholic transgression (at least until I had to pick apart sticky hair strands in my rearview mirror 30 minutes later).

Watching a Gogol Bordello show is like watching a five-year-old make cupcakes. Their faces light up with each stroke, they want you to help them in the process of creation, they’re dying to share the finished product with you, and they watch you giddily to make sure you are enjoying every morsel. Every single band member looked like they were having the time of their life onstage, and during the entire 60-minute set, I could taste the passion in every bite.

—Maureen Coulter

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