Gogol Bordello is a band that does not stay in one spot. In every way you can think of.
Whether you're referring to their frenetic live shows or their relentless touring, the answer is the same - this is a band that is in constant movement. It's in their blood. Hell, it's even in their lyrics:
I'm a wonderlust king / I stay on the run / Let me out / Let me be gone
For a band that moves around so much, it has to be hard to pin them down in one spot. Only the most important occasions can lure their specific brand of live insanity onstage for our viewing pleasure. Luckily, Chicago's famed Concord Music Hall was celebrating such an occasion. Almost exactly a decade since opening their doors, Concord decided to bring it all back where it started. After all, Gogol Bordello was the band that played on that opening night back in 2013.
Kicking the evening's celebration off, Puzzled Panther took the stage as a bit of a mystery. Without much of an online presence to speak of other than an Instagram account and appearing on the Ukrainian fundraiser single United Strike Back, you wouldn't be blamed for having a few questions about the evening's opening act. Fortunately, any questions were answered immediately and emphatically with a rousing set of guitar driven post-punk mixed with a dash of world music and a bit of a Siouxsie and the Banshees vibe. Vocalist Victoria Espinoza and vocalist/guitarist Kay Bontempo (backed by Gogol Bordello percussionist Pedro Erazo and joined onstage by Bordello frontman Eugene Hütz a few songs into their set) were a tone-perfect table-setter for the maniacal party to come, getting the sellout Concord crowd worked up into a singular sweaty, dancing mess (which was quite an accomplishment on an evening where the humidity had the temperatures feeling like the upper 90's). It's not going to take many more live performances like this for their presence, online and otherwise, to to build up a critical mass.
Upon arriving to the melting pot / I get penciled in as a goddamn white / Now that I am categorized / Officer gets me naturalized
Any discussion of Gogol Bordello needs to start with enigmatic and expertly-mustached frontman Eugene Hütz. Fleeing the former Soviet Union to escape the Chernobyl meltdown, the Ukrainian engine that fuels the Gogol Bordello found himself in Vermont as a 17 year old refugee, eventually making his way to New York City and founding several punk bands along the way. Once in NYC, he met some of the future members of Gogol Bordello at the Bulgarian bar Mehana, acting as DJ and house band. Hütz's Mehaha party nights were the perfect melting pot of cultures and sounds that blended together to produce that Bordello sound. Past and present band members have hailed from all over the globe, from Russia to Israel to Ecuador, Brazil, and the US. And that mix is the perfect combination to make music that can only be described as an absolute, nonstop party. From the opening notes of the night's first song "Sacred Darling" and continuing through a marathon two and a half hour set, the party did not stop. Entire beers were thrown in the air (by both the band and the crowd), bottles of wine were chugged and spilled, Ukranian flags were waved. And there in the middle of the madness, continually blurring the separation between stage and crowd, was Hütz - the ultimate carnival barker for this circus of insanity. Prowling the edge of the stage, jumping atop the barricade, and all-around keeping plenty lubricated with red wine and Modelos, Hütz perfectly controls the audience like a marionette. Communicating with little more than crazed facial expressions and exaggerated arm gestures, his ability to not just connect with an audience but get them to party their asses off is what elevates a Gogol Bordello performance to an almost religious experience (see also: alcohol). With both the audience and band shouting and chanting in unison throughout the night during hits like "Start Wearing Purple" and "Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)", it made that much more of a contrast for some of the few more stripped-down and quieter portions of the evening. At one point, Hütz performed onstage accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and two wooden blocks to sit on. Taking his time and speaking softly for the only point of the evening before performing a stripped-down cover of hardcore band Agnostic Front's "Victim In Pain", he mused about writing his own version of Bob Dylan's recent book The Philosophy of Modern Song, poking at Dylan for taking the 'safe' route when talking about the solitary punk band mentioned in the tome ("Like, who doesn't like the fucking Clash?"). But the quiet times couldn't last at a Gogol Bordello show, with a solo acoustic rendition of 'Alcohol' eventually turning into a jam by the entire band, as if they couldn't stand waiting in the wings on the outside of the party looking in for another second.
But if you give me the invitation / To hear the bells of freedom chime / To hell with your double standards / We're coming rougher every time
With the energy being pinballed back and forth between band and audience, the youthful exuberance propelling every word and note, you could almost have thought you were back at that opening night of Concord Music Hall a decade ago. Except for the giant elephant in the room, and by elephant, I mean 'murderous despotic piece of human garbage'. Despite being half the globe away, even this joyous celebration of a night wasn't immune to the looming threat that Vladimir Putin poses not just to Ukraine but to the idea of freedom itself. You can imagine a band with such varied European roots would have personal vested interests in the outcome of the war in Ukraine. As an American audience half a world away, there isn't much more we can do than donate money (which you can do on this site endorsed by the band) and show support however we can. Ukrainian flags of all sizes were waved throughout the night in solidarity as Hütz told the audience to truly appreciate being able to get together and have the time we were having without having to worry about bombs going off in our streets or having to risk our lives to defend our homes. Not to make anyone feel guilty or to bring the evening down - quite the opposite. Hütz wanted to make the point that the best way to truly show solidarity with Ukraine would be to take advantage of every single opportunity we had to partake in all of the things that Putin and his regime stand against. Positivity. Love. Acceptance. Togetherness. Having a good fucking time. Don't forget, this is a band that wrote a song called "Think Locally, Fuck Globally".
For two and a half hours, that's exactly what we did. It truly was a party ten years in the making, and every single person in Concord Music Hall, onstage and in front of it, gave everything they could to that celebration. Maybe that's why Gogol Bordello is able to keep up the travel schedule that they do. When every night is a new party, every night brings together a new family. And as long as you can get together, and just have a great time with people of all ages, colors, and sexual preferences, that can be your home even if it's just for one evening. And in this case, that home is just as good a decade later as the day you first set foot into it.
Gogol Bordello's Free Will Nation Tour continues through August 5.
Gogol Bordello Setlist - Concord Music Hall, Chicago 6.27.23
I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again
Not a Crime
Dance Around the Fire
United Strike Back
Suddenly...(I Miss Carpaty)
Trans-Continental Hustle/American Wedding
Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)
Start Wearing Purple
Victim In Pain