December 11th 2013
Gogol Bordello bring their unique brand of gypsy punk to Leeds. idp goes along to watch, listen and take some pictures.
It promises to be an exhausting night at the Academy in Leeds. The place is pretty warm even before the music starts and New York gypsy punks Gogol Bordello are known for giving it a hundred percent. Proceedings are opened by another band who have rejected the sitting still and playing nicely route to fame and fortune – Philadelphia experimental rockers Man Man, tonight performing as a trio, clad in anatomically precise skeleton costumes and managing to play a small orchestra of instruments between them. They make a glorious cacophony of manic keyboards, vocals that growl and shout and twist and writhe, drum battles, horns and dancing that owes as much to gymnastics and semaphore as to any conventional choreography.
When the Gogols take to the stage it’s the start of two hours of non stop mayhem, launching immediately into the call to arms We Rise Again followed by Not A Crime. These two set the pattern for the night with the band members constantly on the move, switching places at the front of stage and striking revolutionary cavalier poses on the monitors and leaning so far out across the pit towards the forest of raised arms in the front rows that once or twice you fear they may topple in. They have a knack of almost disappearing into the gloom at the back of the stage so that when they come bounding out to the front again there is always a slight element of ‘Oh are they still there?’ surprise about it.
Lead singer Eugene Hutz is a master rabble rouser and orchestrator of crowds and nobody takes very long to shed their inhibitions and get dancing like loopy things and singing along, while the band take it in turns to bellow and chant and strike bizarre revolutionary poses at the stage front.
The songs are a mixture of old favourites plus the pick of their two most recent albums, 2010s Trans-Continental Hustle and this year’s collection of battle hymns and marching songs Pura Vida Conspiracy (see Louder Than War review here) and the band exude high octane charisma as they cajole and exhort the crowd to match their exuberance.
Highlights include Start Wearing Purple which starts with a chaotic singalong to what sounds like the death of a hurdy gurdy machine before the band kicks in with violin, guitars and massive drums and a heartfelt Alcohol, performed almost solo by Hutz accompanied in the later verses only by his own guitar and some deft accordion and violin. This song in particular brings out that slightly exotic Balkan/gypsy sound, which may for all I know be completely spurious and inauthentic, but which sets Gogol Bordello apart from other bands – at times Hutz actually sounds in pain, at others he sounds like a drunk singing highlights from the Albanian top forty but he always sounds like you’d like to get drunk with him and join in.
How they manage to keep the pace up so long is a mystery but keep it up they do, and we keep up with them, because once you’ve started it’s hard to stop and we get all danced and twisted into a big sweaty mess right up to the finish which comes with a five song encore culminating in Mishto and Ultimate and then, having been thoroughly immersed in the music and content to make fools of ourselves for the last two hours we all turn very British and look slightly sheepishly at each other before shuffling out into the cold night allowing ourselves just one or two polka steps on the way to keep the circulation going. You have to come down gradually from these things.