Gogol Bordello to headline World Cup Village and Belly Up Aspen
“We are the immigrant punks!” Gogol Bordello drummer Pedro Erazo told a crowd at Belly Up during a fierce and sweat-soaked Thanksgiving Eve concert. “Our message is peace and love and unity.”
The band’s nine members have emigrated from five different continents, and their shows are wild and worldly spectacles that marry old-world European sounds with the thrashing guitars of punk rock. Their anthems include “Transcontinental Hustle,” “Immigraniada” and “Think Locally, F–k Globally.” They’re a walking embodiment of the international spirit of Aspen this weekend during the World Cup Finals, as the band takes the World Cup Village stage in Wagner Park today and returns to Belly Up on Saturday.
At the November show, the gypsy punk band created the kind of riotous spectacle that fans have come to expect from Gogol Bordello, and its fearless declaration of immigrant pride shouldered the weight of our shared fear of what was to come from the recently elected Donald Trump. Five months later, as the new president’s second immigration ban was set to go into effect before being halted by a Hawaii judge, that message has only gained importance.
Count on front man Eugene Hütz and his bandmates in Gogol Bordello to deliver it as only they can at this weekend’s performances.
Hütz is a peerless showman. At one point during the Belly Up show in November, during an extended take on “Dogs Were Barking,” he skipped off the stage and walked the length of the railing at the back end of the pit. He kept singing as he kicked away bottles and glasses while the crowd held up the long cords to his microphone and guitar as he strutted around and above them and eventually ended up back on the stage in a wide smile and a tangle of wires.
He called the show a “choreographic experience,” but the enthralling thing about a Gogol Bordello performance is that exactly nothing appears choreographed. When Hütz takes pulls from his bottle of red wine or steadily strips off his clothes over the course of the night when a band member stage dives or when two costumed dancers appear at intervals to yell and pound on bass drums, it seems improvised and feels like it’s been conjured by the collective will of the audience in thrall to the music.
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 as a must-see live act
The band’s role today is simple, Hütz said in an interview before the Aspen show: “Same role it always plays: healing. Is there any other role for music? It’s ritualistic healing. Anthropologically it evolved as a form of art. But really, it’s therapy.”
And at the dawn of the Trump era, Hütz remains hopeful.
“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.”
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