Gogol Bordello kicks off winter in Aspen at Belly Up
If You Go…
What: Gogol Bordello
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, Nov. 23, 9:30 p.m.
How much: $60-$85
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Gogol Bordello’s live shows are wild and worldly gypsy punk spectacles, unlike most anything else you’ll see onstage these days. For front man Eugene Hütz, every sweat-soaked concert by his hard-charging, hard-touring nine-member band is a call for unity and for healing.
Hütz grew up in the former Soviet Union and fled Kiev as a teenager following the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown. He traveled Europe with Gypsy relatives and eventually came to the U.S. as a refugee, settling in Vermont, where he started his first hard-core punk band. Eventually he made his way to New York City, where he formed Gogol Bordello and melded the sounds of American punk with gypsy jazz, cabaret theatrics and Eastern European sounds.
Since forming in 1999, the band has released six albums and earned a reputation for raucous, chaotic live shows. Gogol Bordello will kick off winter in Aspen with a Thanksgiving eve show at Belly Up tonight.
Their songs marry the thrash and pound of guitar-driven punk rock with accordion and fiddle, performed by a veritable United Nations of musicians who’ve emigrated to the U.S. from five continents.
They can be funny and freaky, satirical and silly, but their pro-immigrant anthems like “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)” and “We Rise Again” seem like indispensible political statements right now in the U.S. When we spoke two days after the U.S. presidential election, however, Hütz said the role of Gogol Bordello’s music is unchanged by the successful anti-immigrant campaign of Donald Trump.
“Same role it always plays: healing,” Hütz, 43, said from a tour stop in Austin, Texas. “Is there any other role for music? It’s ritualistic healing. Anthropologically it evolved as a form of art. But really, it’s therapy.”
Asked whether the band had a new sense of urgency or mission in the shadow of the president-elect’s nativist rhetoric, Hütz laughed. He and his band take the long view, he said.
“People like to get wrapped up in the moment and dramatize the moment,” he said. “But the moment is always the same. The same people and tendencies were there 20 years ago and any amount of time ago. It’s really just about bringing your own focus into a healing spectrum. That’s how I feel.”
He is championing hope over fear in this fraught moment.
“The great thing about America is that it does have quite astounding stability,” he said. “It was founded on the idea of giving some stability. And that still works. So that’s the good news. I think as long as everybody is exercising their consciousness, it’s going to be OK.”
As a kid in the former Soviet Union, Hütz was exposed to banned books and ideas and music through an artistically inclined uncle and his bohemian circle of friends. At 15, he recalled, what would become Gogol Bordello’s signature brand of smart gypsy punk began taking shape in his mind, as he read deeply in psychology (Eric Fromm, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud) and immersed himself in 1980s new wave and punk music.
“It was quite skull-splitting, because I was listening to Devo and Joy Division and Nick Cave in the same day that I was reading Eric Fromm,” he said. “Wow. It was quite an avalanche.”
Gogol Bordello’s shows are notoriously high-energy affairs, with Hütz’s stage theatrics and performance art sensibility often drawing comparisons to Iggy Pop.
“Part of me is athletic, in an unorthodox way,” he explained.
The singer practices martial arts and was a competitive long distance runner as a teenager. He’s currently developing a form he calls “MMMA” — musical mixed martial arts — that he’s planning to take on the road soon. The rigor of touring and of the band’s intense creative approach have benefitted from that athlete’s mindset.
“I developed from childhood years, thanks to sports and martial arts, quite an all right level of self-discipline,” he explained. “So that is pretty tremendous help in a world of chaos.”
The band recently finished recording a new album – its first since 2013’s “Pura Vida Conspiracy.” Hütz produced it, and the band may preview some of the new songs at its Aspen show. He expects to release it by next spring. They may take several years between albums, but Hütz said Gogol Bordello is always making new music.
“The truth is that the factory never stops,” he explained. “It keeps humming in the night. It’s sort of a work in progress on all fronts. It’s quite messy. People get to enjoy something that’s already quite crispy. But it’s just really one huge ‘Tetris’ of ideas falling out of the sky. That’s the way I love it.”
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