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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, April 18, 2014

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The wanderlust kings: Gogol Bordello.
The wanderlust kings: Gogol Bordello.

Gogol Bordello bring gypsy party to Turner Hall

Let me be a snob for one second while I say that I feel lucky to have seen Gogol Bordello before they became famous. The reason I'm pleased to have seen them before they were cool, however, has less to do with my hipster status and more to do with the energy of the music in relation to my proximity to the stage. It was a very personal connection.

Gogol Bordello is a gypsy punk band that combines traditional Balkan sounds with the energy of modern punk music. I saw them in the summer of 2005, shortly after their EP, "East Infection" came out and well before the release of their defining album, "Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike," the album that propelled them to international stardom.

Since then they've released the even stronger, non-stop, full-length album, "Super Taranta," which was ranked at No.14 in the "Rolling Stone" list of top 50 albums for 2007. They have also been featured in several movies, worked with Madonna, and played gigantic festivals all over the world.

But upon my first encounter with them they were just a brightly colored punk outfit from New York and they were playing The Subterranean, a small Chicago bar and venue. The stage was pretty tiny, and the backstage was actually an upstairs, connected by a theatrical, winding staircase. The crowd that showed up was small by today's comparisons and I'm sure the 50 people that attended were considered a success. At that time they'd released two full-length albums with modest audio success (the songs were there, but the quality was lacking) and their label, Rubric Records, was young.

But ultimately the size of the crowd didn't matter, and for those few dozen people, the band played their asses off. Three songs in, lead singer/growler Eugene Hutz had already removed his shirt and was glistening with sweat, and the hairs from Sergey Ryabtsev's violin bow were already separated and flailing wildly with each intense stroke. Yuri Lemeshev, the accordionist, seemed to be the only one at peace, sitting down with a look of bliss on his face, but his fingers, strobing across keyboard, provided evidence to the contrary. Two gypsy entertainers dressed in striped tights, handkerchiefs, and heavy makeup danced around, played the washboard, a fire bucket, and screamed into the microphone.

At one point Hutz hopped on top of a large bass drum and sent it out over the audience -- crowd surfing, singing, and playing simultaneously. The entire experience was equal parts vaudeville, European wedding party, and cabaret gone mad.

The best part about it was that the band was only mere feet away and often closer, providing an intensely personal experience. Sometimes Hutz would enter the crowd, sometimes the crowd would jump the stage. At many points it was less like watching a band, and more like participating in a raucous party, dancing, yelling, and sweating. Even I, who am more prone to standing and enjoying from afar, started moving my feet, jumping around, and having fun. It's irresistible. And it's this energy that is ultimately what led to their success.

However, with large success came larger stages and larger crowds. The next time I saw them, only a year later, was at The Rave, and they towering over us and separated by gates and bouncers. Elsewhere I followed their tours through pictures posted on the Internet and at some of the festivals it seemed like miles separated the crowd from the stage. Live Earth was unimaginably huge.

You might think the next logical step would be to disown the band and move on to the next small thing, but it's hard to fault the band because regardless of what venue they're playing, they still manage to put on just as intense and fantastic a show. In that respect, I think we're lucky to have Gogol Bordello returning to Milwaukee at the Turner Ballroom tonight, where the stage isn't so far away and bouncers aren't so bitter (though I'd not recommend jumping the stage). And if this show follows the tried and true trends of the band, expect a lot of participation. It may not be personalized with a kiss, but this will be a show that is almost guaranteed to be a success.

 

Talkbacks

a_manson | June 26, 2008 at 3:33 p.m. (report)

I saw them at the Newport in C-bus the night before and they truely are the best live band I've seen !!! they never seemed to get tired!!! I haven't seen that many people dancing at a concert since Flogging Molly! Anyway after it was all said and done and most every one had gone on their merry way, for the few of us who stayed we got an encore preformance frome Eugene (who didn't put his guitar down until the last of the crew was on the bus) and got to hang out and get autographs from the rest of the troupe! You can go to thousands of shows and not once get the opportunity to get autographs let alone see real people just hangin out doin what they love to do with the fans who truely appreciate it. Thank you Gogle Bordello for keepin' it real!!!

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Idle1 | June 13, 2008 at 1:23 p.m. (report)

Missed GB's show Wednesday. Can anyone direct me to a review of it?

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BW | June 11, 2008 at 1:13 p.m. (report)

Can't wait for the show tonight!

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