GOGOL BORDELLO + Panic & The Rebel Emergency @ Théâtre National

By Josh Mocle - The Kids Are So-So - 02/16/2006

Innovative. Adjective. “Being or producing something like nothing done or experienced or created before”. I’ve seen this word thrown around in alt-rock circles for a few years now, when people are claiming that this or that band is “groundbreaking” or “doing new things with the genre”. That having been said, I’m gonna go ahead and say that arguably, the only truly innovative band to come out of the punk scene in the last seven years is none other than New York-by-way-of-Eastern Europe’s Gogol Bordello. These self-proclaimed “Gypsy Punks” sound like what The Sex Pistols would have sounded like if they had formed in post-war Ukraine rather than merry old England. In a sea of poseurs claiming to be punk rock, Gogol Bordello -- with their latest effort Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike -- continues to carry the torch of raw, unfettered and genuinely rebellious punk rock. On the night of February 16th 2006, they carried it to Montreal.

I made my way out to Le National, a new venue nestled comfortably in the east end of Ste-Catherine, on Friday night accompanied by my 56-year-old father, a recently converted Gogol fan. You can imagine my surprise when my Dad, who for years had told me to “turn that crap down” whenever I spun whatever new CD I was rocking at the time, showed a considerable amount of interest in accompanying me to this show. Once I reached the venue, however, it ceased to be a mystery as the first thing I noticed were folks older than him in the crowd. For the first time in my concert-going career, I was part of an audience that was genuinely diverse. You had your twentysomething “intellectual” university kids, your working class 30-40 “civilized” bunch, your 50-60 “seen the world” adults and finally, your generic 16-19 scene kids (*vomit*). This really struck me as a reflection on Gogol themselves, as for a few months I’d been puzzled as to what their target audience is. Based on this turnout, that target audience appears to be pretty damn close to everyone.

After around an hour and a half of standing around, Toronto’s Panic and the Rebel Emergency took the stage. I had only heard of this band before that evening and I can now safely say that I could have lived a full and happy life without ever having to hear their particular brand of what I affectionately call “white boy Reggae” (one can probably guess what I infer by that) -- despite the fact that one of their two singers was a Jamaica native, but I digress. After a shortened set full of ditties that sounded like a mangled mix of Chassidic Reggae Superstar Matisyahu and stoner favorites Sublime -- although not the genuinely good aspects of either group -- and a cover of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, they were off to most likely toke up somewhere based on the amount of time they spent praising Montreal weed during their set.

A half-hour later, Gogol Bordello themselves took the stage and that was when things really got interesting. After opening their set with one of their more downbeat songs, “Immigrant Punk” -- probably the song, in my opinion, that best describes all the music they would go on to play that night -- they began to rip into “Sally”, the first track off Gypsy Punks, at which point the room exploded. As the night wore on, the energy exhibited by the band was almost contagious. The last time I saw a crowd this riled-up and energetic was in a video of one of Boston’s Dropkick Murphys world-famous St.Patrick’s Day shows -- I realize that may mean nothing to a lot of you Montrealers, but back in Boston it’s a pretty big deal. By the end of the second song, singer/acoustic guitar player Eugene Hutz was topless and covered in sweat -- as is the case, rumor has it, at every Gogol show; the man apparently likes to flaunt himself.) By the third song, the band’s dancer/percussionists Pamela Jintana Racine and Elizabeth Sun took the stage with the rest of band. In the band’s recordings, their contributions are often not too noticeable over those of the men in the band (you know the female shrieks all over “I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again”? Yeah, that’s them), but their presence on stage added to the chaos, an element of beauty and charisma that were absent otherwise. Hell, they certainly made the older male members of the band look prettier by comparison.

Speaking of the older male members of the band, Violinist Sergey Ryabtzev wins the Awesome award of the night; never before had I seen a person work a violin with as much intensity and vigor. He truly created the punk vibe with that thing -- I hope you’re listening Yellowcard. Easily in his mid-50's, Ryabtzev had seemingly more energy than some of his bandmates who were half his age. That having been said, the rest of the band wasn’t too shabby either. Almost entirely hidden behind his accordion, Yuri Lemeshev added a traditional aspect to the songs, solidifying in numbers such as “Think Locally, Fuck Globally” and “60 Revolutions”, the “gypsy” aspect of Gogol’s Gypsy Punks. Meanwhile, electric guitarist Oren Kaplan, bassist Rea Mochiach and drummer Eliot Ferguson kept the beat and form of the songs, but were sadly overshadowed -- in my opinion -- by the rest of the band. Which brings me to Eugene Hutz himself; I can’t say much about this man that hasn’t been said before. I’ve heard things like “ball of energy on stage” and “wild & crazy guy” used to describe the frontman, but I choose to describe him in one word, and that word is simply “electrified”. The amount of movement and energy coming out of that man would make one think he was getting 3000 volts injected into his body for an hour and a half. With his constant command of “party!” to the audience, he sure took his own advice. Even after the band had concluded their set, he still seemed content to talk smack with the audience from the empty stage.

By the end of the night, I found myself completely wasted having consumed no alchoholic substances (okay, maybe a litle, but that’s neither here nor there). Firmly taking its place towards the top of my “best live shows I’ve ever seen” list, Gogol Bordello has got me even more hooked than I had been. Like going on three consecutive benders followed by a bar mitzvah and an extended family reunion complete with all the members who grew up in the “old country”, thus is the effect Gogol Bordello has on its audience. If such an experience interests you -- and you KNOW it does -- then I would strongly suggest making your way to a Gogol show sometime in the near future; you probably won't be disappointed.

Oh, and my Dad loved it too.

[Tune in to The Kids Are So-So Saturdays 10:00pm-Midnight.]