Gogol Bordello @ The Majestic Theatre

By: Hunter M. Daniels

Gogol Bordello @ The Majestic Theatre
Photo: courtesy of the band
Gogol Bordello

Posted: June 2, 2009 – Los Angeles, United States

Early into their set at the Majestic Theater in Ventura, California, Gogol Bordello front man Eugene Hurtz stepped up to the microphone and began to mumble a quick story about "Educate Thy Neighbor", one of their new songs.

"We were in Turkey a year ago," said Hurtz in his Eastern European accent. "And we found out that they were going to tear down a thousand year old church. And this is a normal thing to do. They're going to tear down the entrance to the Byzantine Empire and put up a Ramada hotel. So, we wrote this song in protest to try and stop it."

The audience cheered, but it was not a happy moment for Hurtz, who continued: "I am sorry to inform you that, as of a week ago, we failed, and the demolition has already occurred."

The audience went quiet, contemplating the loss of a piece of history most in attendance never even knew existed.

"But we're going to play this song for you anyway," said Hurtz as his sly smile returned to his mustachioed face. "So that maybe next time, someone will remember to do the right thing."

This type of deeply sincere joke typifies Gogol Bordello, the world's most successful Gypsy Punk band. Songs like "American Wedding" play as a series of gags, but belie a deeper truth – a profound sadness at the loss of the sense of magic with which the world was once filled.

Over the next two hours, Gogol Bordello did its best to reignite some of that magic in the eyes of the disaffected, tattoo-heavy crowd. The audience, caught up in a mad frenzy of moshing and wai–ling choruses was all too happy to buy in.

The exuberant and angular set was highlighted by fan favorites including "Wonderlust King", "Think Locally, Fuck Globally", "Ultimate", "Immigrant Punk", and the massive sing-along, "Start Wearing Purple". But this wasn't just a self-congratulatory romp by a band resting on its laurels. Instead, Hurtz and his expansive band focused most of their energy on material from their upcoming album.

The new songs represent no great shift for Gogol Bordello. The band is still heavy on bass, lightening fast acoustic guitar, and of course, the accordion. It's not a leap forward sonically, but if "Educate Thy Neighbor" is any indication, the new record will stray from the jumbled FOB-isms that were previously synonymous with the band and into more lucid storytelling that doesn't rely on so many verbal tics.

A Gogol Bordello show is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Hurtz's stage presence is epic, and the band thrash on their instruments with a joy that is more infectious than the worst case of swine flu. The group rips and tears through songs, building tension and drama that leads towards elation and epiphany. It is – and I don't think this is much of an overstatement – nothing short of a religious experience.

The band's current series of shows seems to be a preparation tour to get comfortable with the new material before taking it to bigger venues. And it's a real treat to see a band this powerful in such an intimate setting.

Gogol Bordello remains one of the few bands I will go significantly out of my way to see every time they play. Even if you cannot see them on this smaller venue tour, make sure to catch them on their (sure-to-be) upcoming transnational trek. Having seen the band play much larger stages I can assure you, nothing is lost in translation.

Video: "Wonderlust King" by Gogol Bordello

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