No matter how good their studio output might be, some bands just have to be experienced live to be fully understood. Gogol Bordello is one such band. The self-proclaimed gypsy-punks bring a raw energy and sense of joy to the stage that easily blows away their already quality recordings. Last night's show at the Pageant was no exception: The eight-piece band had the crowd in the palms of their sweaty hands from the moment they stepped on stage.
As its moniker suggests, Gogol blends the melodic sensibility and gypsy instrumentation (accordions, violins and extra percussion) from leader Eugene Hutz's native Ukraine with punk's loud guitars and primal attack. The band also throws in a healthy amount of reggae rhythms and effects and tops it all off with distinctively accented vocals. Opener "Underdog World Strike" illustrated this sound perfectly and acted as harbinger for the chaos to come, with its menacing dub-stomp leading to quick breakdown and back. After that, Gogol dispensed with the foreplay and throttled ahead with riveting gypsy rock, leading the entire at-capacity pit to pogo along. By fourth song, "Tribal Connection," Hutz traded his shirt for a bottle of booze and lead everyone through the song's infectious "ohhh-ohs" in the chorus. Despite being one of the slower and longer songs in the set, the group managed to keep the atmosphere electric with its focused attack and audience interaction.
Soon it was back to the fast tempos of songs like "My Companjera," "Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)" and "Break the Spell." The latter featured a fantastic coda in which every member besides the drummer came to the front of the stage for a crescendo that lead to a thrilling metal finish. In fact, Gogol only went for a few ballads throughout the night -- and while these were hardly embarrassing, it was obvious what its strengths are when they launched back into frenzied rock tunes. The group closed out its hour-long set with the breakout hit "Start Wearing Purple." Its simple structure, silly lyrics and hilariously melodramatic bridge still bring the house down, and the group's transition into a reprise of "Break the Spell's" metal coda wrapped up the main part of the night nicely.
Gogol returned for two encores. The first was a quick two songs that brought more of the same, which is hardly anything to complain about, but the second was something special. After a night of over-the-top bombast, Hutz, accordionist Yuri Lemeshev and eventually violinist Sergey Ryabtsev came out to deliver a stirring rendition of the melancholy ballad "Alcohol." The stripped-down arrangement allowed the pretty melody, sad lyrics and strong harmonies to take center stage and proved that less too can be more with Gogol. Perhaps this is why it connected more than the concert's other ballads. Either way, it was an excellent end to an outstanding performance.
Opener Tres Leches turned out to be Gogol percussionist Pedro Erazo's DJ persona. He mostly alternated between bass-heavy dub and aggressive drum n bass and occasionally contributed mostly rhythmic vocals. A scattered handful of people in the floor seemed to get into it, but most of the crowd didn't have much of a reaction. Although skilled, Tres Leches' act seemed more suited to a nightclub than a rock show.