Gogol Bordello @ Birmingham Academy – 22/04/08

Gogol Bordello

I’ll admit it — I’m somewhat in love with Eugene, or at least what he represents. It’s my ulterior motive for going to a Bordello gig. The opportunity to see him prance about, unhinged and untamed. I find myself naively fantasising about the romance of a gypsy lifestyle, of having adventures in far eastern lands, and of feeling more alive than my daily routine of rain-soaked Network West Midlands tram journeys and limp salads from Tesco allows.

The crowd was an odd mix of middle-aged middle class housewives who “didn’t know what they were getting themselves in for!” (when demanding they be allowed a passout to get a quick bite to eat, despite the Academy’s strict no passout policy — not even for smokers), dredlocked hippies, old skool punks and disdain-inducing Skins-wannabes…. Shudder. I shouldn’t be surprised — after Eugene and band appeared on stage alongside Madonna for July 07’s Live Earth concert it seems everyone jumped on board the gypsy punk bandwagon, without even bothering to find out what that entailed. Fortunately Skindred were on hand to ease this mixed bag into the evening’s performances.

Skindred supproting Gogol BordelloSkindred supproting Gogol Bordello

Skindred took to the stage to a hiphop Star Wars mashup inciting raucous applause. The perfect support for Bordello, lead singer Benji looked suave in a suit with long dredlocks tumbling down his back. It struck me as both amusingly unexpected and oddly endearing when he addressed the crowd revealing his full Newport dialect, and I was even more excited to discover that despite claiming the genre ‘Ragga-metal’ all to themselves, I was having a shockingly good time! They knew exactly how to warm the crowd up, helped along by a large percentage of fans present and accounted for, and all too soon Benji was stood on top of the drum riser shedding a faux tear to end the set.

After a brief interlude (containing remixed Bordello tracks and some miscellaneous gypsy music) Gogol Bordello took to the stage. Whilst the whole band create an audio-visual cacophony, four members particularly stand out in my mind. Eugene, in his black and red skintight stripy jeans and open shirt with long flowing hair and handlebar moustache, Sergey the violinist with long grey beard, and cocky yet suave expressions, bassist Thomas for looking shockingly westernised in tshirt and combats yet completely in place with the other band members, and finally accordionist Yuri whose facial expressions continuously flit from stern and creepy to curious and mannequin-like.

Gogol BordelloGogol Bordello

Not forgetting the two ladies of Bordello — Pamela and Elizabeth – whose role in the band revolves around some backing vocals, some percussion, but most importantly a strong performance element which weaves it’s way throughout the set. The opening song, Ultimate, had them screaming throughout whilst Eugene simulated strangling them. I wondered what the housewives had let themselves in for?

The set was as I had hoped — album tracks come to life with more energy and enthusiasm than a CD could ever portray. The core audience knew all of the words to songs such as Not a Crime, I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again and Wonderlust King. During Tribal Connection, Benji made a welcome return to stage whilst hoardes of crowdsurfers rode a wave of flying empty pint glasses. After tracks such as American Wedding and Start Wearing Purple, the first set ended with Think Locally, Fuck Globally. Eugene finished to a rousing applaud and manic cheer whilst drumming on a red fire bucket balanced over his mic. The entire band crowded to the front of the stage and reached out to the front row, showing humility and genuine pleasure in their cheers. Unsurprisingly, at this point much of the audience dispersed leaving only the core Bordello fans for the finale.

Gogol BordelloGogol Bordello

Once again Eugene took to the stage, although this time alone to begin an acoustic rendition of Alcohol, much slower and more melancholy than the album version. Gradually throughout the song he was joined by other members of the band until the song became a rousing anthem for those members of the audience who had stayed on. After Alcohol, we were treated simply to an extended Baro Foro which included elements of Harem in Tuscany, Undestructable and other Bordello tracks blended in. This final medley lapped over the audience like a wave, which swelled and crashed over and over again. After what felt like a glorious eternity, the set ended and this time for good. The band descended into the photographers pit and reached out to the front row and beyond, with Eugene deliberately ensuring he stopped to say hi to all of those people still squashed against the barrier.

Why do people go to see live music? Is it to see their heroes in the flesh? Perhaps purchase some mostly overpriced merchandise? Is it to sweat it out with other like minded fans in an unventilated sticky-floored stretched-to-capacity box? With a wealth of mundane acts flooding the TV and airwaves it’s easy to become jaded when going to a gig. It becomes easier to accept bland performances and mediocre sounds from prettier and prettier mass-marketed acts, and to forget that the essence of live music is ultimately contained within the energy and and soul of the performers themselves.

And then you go to a Gogol Bordello gig.

And it feels like waking up from a deep sleep you never knew you’d fallen into.

Gogol Bordello crowd

And so I continue my one-sided love-affair with Eugene, but am reminded that it’s actually the whole band I adore, and the whole band I want to have adventures with, and the whole band who make my heart sing along in broken english and my feet stamp to their gypsy punk beat.

Review – Red Annie
Photos – Lee Allen

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