Review: Gogol Bordello at Belly Up Aspen

Gogol Bordello photographed during a concert at Belly Up Aspen on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Michael Goldberg/Courtesy photo |

Gogol Bordello’s message of unity is collectively written in sweat and screams.

The gypsy punk band’s riotous spectacle of a show at Belly Up on Thanksgiving Eve kicked open the door to Aspen’s winter high season. Fans, of course, have come to expect the unexpected — and a wild night — from the tireless band’s vaunted concerts. And this one was a characteristically epic evening of dancing and light-touch moshing. But at the dawn of the Trump era in the U.S., their fierce and fearless declaration of immigrant pride took on greater import — it shouldered the weight of our shared fear of what’s to come. After two cathartic hours of scream therapy with Gogol Bordello and frontman Eugene Hütz, we walked out into a snowy mountain night thinking — maybe, somehow — everything was going to be alright.

Hütz is a peerless showman. At one point, 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.

At one point 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.

All these wild antics would get old quickly, however, if the music wasn’t as excellent as the theatrics. Through all the chaos, somehow, Gogol Bordello put on a stellar musical performance Nov. 23. Hütz may be the ringmaster, but Professor Sergey Ryabstev’s speed fiddling and Boris Pelekj’s thrashing electric guitar interludes were musical high points. Along with sing-along-ready favorites like “Wonderlust King,” Transcontinental Hustle,” “Immigraniada” and “Think Locally, F-k Globally,” the band showcased a handful of brand new songs from a forthcoming album.

Without mentioning the name of the president-elect or overtly bringing politics to the stage, the seven-piece band put on a wildly entertaining show that doubled as a protest and affirmation of the American melting pot’s greatness. Gogol Bordello — based in New York and including members from five continents — doesn’t take any down time between songs, and Hütz isn’t one for stage banter. The closest they came to acknowledging the political climate was when drummer Pedro Erazo introduced the anthem “Immigrant Punk” saying, “We are the immigrant punks … Our message is peace and love and unity.”

The evening closed with an encore of “Nomadic Chronicle,” which sketches Hütz’s experience as a refugee fleeing post-Cernobyl Ukraine, to which the singer added a verse about how “true community” will triumph over “negativity.”

Let us hope.