Gogol Bordello is one of those bands that defies characterisation. Made up almost entirely of immigrants from New York’s East side, this eight-man Gypsy punk outfit have been wowing crowds the world over since 1999 with their heady mix of rampant energy and ethnic fusion.
Now, after seven albums (with a new one coming soon) they’ve come to Poland. Or, more specifically, they’ve come to Wroclaw's Municipal Stadium, not exactly the first place that springs to mind when thinking of a suitable venue for a Gypsy punk band and, indeed, not their first choice. Originally the band was supposed to perform at Klub Eter, but a last minute change meant that the thousand-strong crowd found itself crammed into the stadium’s VIP area instead, facing possibly the smallest stage I've ever seen for a band of this size and forced to fork out over 4 zl for a simple cup of water.
It was only by sheer luck that we found out about this change of venue too, since no one had bothered to tell us about it. (Seriously Empik, how hard can it be to take a contact number when someone buys a ticket from you?)
But still, any grumblings we might have had were erased within seconds of the gig’s explosive opening. From the moment that percussionist Pedro Erazo emerged onto the stage wearing a Peruvian headdress and blowing a horn, you knew this was going to be something special.
This was punk as it's meant to be: wild, anarchic and full of aggressive energy. At times the sheer cacophony being generated by the eight-piece band was so intense, it was hard to tell what song was actually being played (with the amazing violin skills of Sergey Ryabtsev sadly almost completely disappearing in the mix). But still, the sheer energy couldn't be denied.
The crowd loved it too, pogoing wildly from the first bars of opener Not a Crime and not letting up for the entire duration of the show – a show which lasted an incredible two and a half hours and included six encores, which has to be some sort of record.
No wonder lead singer Eugene Hütz spent most of the gig topless, guitar slung upside down on his back while he leaned out from the tiny stage, his body drenched in sweat. The other band members were forced to time-share the front of the stage with him – there not being enough room for them all at the same time – coming forward to perform their parts before dancing away to the back in an anarchic swirl of sound and clashing styles.
If there was one downside to the whole experience, it was that the mix really should have been better. Whether it was due to the last minute change of venue, I have no idea, but backing singer Elizabeth Sun might as well have had her mic turned off for all the crowd could hear her and at times I forgot there was even an accordionist in the band at all.
But these are niggling matters. You don't go to see a band like Gogol Bordello for the musicality of their performance, you go to see them for their energy and that was something they had in spades.
Gogol Bordello has a stage presence unlike any else I've ever seen and from beginning to end they were a feast for the eyes and a chaos for the ears that left the crowd dizzy with exhaustion and hungry for more.
A great gig.