Gogol Bordello unplugged
The kings of gypsy punk return to the city for an acoustic gig at Glavclub next week.
Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)
Eugene Hutz and other band members will perform an acoustic gig.
Gogol Bordello, an eccentric band made up of musicians who unite their cultural influences to make the inimitable sound of volcanic gypsy punk, plans to take St. Petersburg by storm on Nov. 23.
At its latest local concert, the group will give an acoustic concert as part of a European tour.
“The idea for an acoustic tour has been on our minds for many years,” the group’s charismatic Ukrainian-born lead singer and lyricist Eugene Hutz said in an interview with The St. Petersburg Times.
“Gogol Bordello has always been two bands in one. The acoustic band is actually the foundation of Gogol Bordello. Our first album is basically an acoustic period with a tiny, gentle touch of electricity. Electric Gogol Bordello is a powerful generator, but at the moment we have started to miss the colors and textures that an acoustic show possesses. So why not have an acoustic tour that will be fun for everybody? People will hear songs that the electric band doesn’t play anymore, and it’s great and refreshing for us.”
The set list of the acoustic show consists of the most requested songs that the band doesn’t often play live anymore, according to Hutz. “We’ve been around for six albums and there is a lot of material that people are addicted to. Russian shows are of course more special because we have quite a bit of Russian material that has never been released. It has been accumulating all this time and now the time has come to rock some Russian fans.”
The eight-person band currently consists of members from Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Ecuador, Scotland, the U.S. and Ethiopia. What brought them together? A love of music, the desire to make something special and a little bit of luck.
“Raw power and the raw joy of playing is the foundation of the band,” said Hutz. “That is something that is always going to be there, we’re not interested in any other kind of sound. That’s just the nature of it. Our band is always pretty messy on the stage.”
Formed in New York in 1999, Gogol Bordello quickly made a name for itself as a boisterous, eccentric band, and now plays all over the world and takes part in European and American music festivals. The band famously performed with pop queen Madonna in 2007 and are regular guests in Eastern Europe and Russia.
To date, the band has released five albums as well as an EP full of driving electronic beats, and has taken on more group members.
Gogol Bordello’s music is characterized by the sounds of the violin and accordion, inspired by traditional Romanian and Carpathian melodies, and combined with Hutz’s distinctive voice. The lyrics are full of feelings of non-acceptance and of the difficulties of immigrant life, expressed by Hutz in a way that sounds at home anywhere, from America to Russia.
“All the songs of discomfort are from the earlier years,” said Hutz. “I’ve been on stage for many years, long before Gogol Bordello existed. My career started in Kiev in 1987. It’s funny, but back then I did not feel at all comfortable, even in my hometown. Everybody told me that I had to go away, so I went … and eventually I came to the point where I realized that if I went to Morocco or Siberia or Brazil I would feel more at home there than anywhere before. Obviously I’ve gone through quite an evolution, which I enjoy very much.”
Gogol Bordello is always open to experiments, and every new album features even more new cultural and musical influences from different countries than the last. The group’s most recent album, “Trans-Continental Hustle,” was influenced by Hutz’s move to Brazil, which is reflected in the traditional Brazilian rhythms that punctuate the record.
“The more inspiration you have, the better. It’s a scientific fact,” said Hutz. “But adventures are what inspire me most of all. A lot of my life I was looking for good places to be, to breathe. I have discovered quite a few of them. At the moment it’s like I have my own triangle of New York, Rio de Janeiro and Kiev; that’s pretty good, it’s a lot to take care of and that’s kind of how I like it.”
No matter what direction of music the band chooses to experiment with, one thing stays the same: It’s always true rock ‘n’ roll with strong guitar parts. Hutz was brought up listening to Johnny Cash, Jimmy Hendrix and Nick Cave, and admits that they have all in some way influenced his music.
“If you want to really rock a house, all you need to do is to pick really good mentors who will influence you,” Hutz said.
“The reason why I love Cave and Cash is not only because of their music, but because their lyrics were really strong. For me, coming from a Russian rock background, that was important, because Russian rock always had lyrics that were superb and more advanced than the original Western rock ‘n’ roll, I think. Of course, Western rock is much stronger when it comes to performance and production, but Russian song writers were the champions of writing lyrics. So naturally I picked mentors who taught me how to tell a story, like Johnny Cash or Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen or Shane MacGowan from The Pogues. I learned English through my mentors. I feel like they are kind of my uncles in this sense.”
Hutz pays tribute to this sentiment in his song “Strange Uncle From Abroad,” in which he sings: “My strange uncles from abroad, yes I never met them, but I took everything they wrote, and I’ll never forget them.” In addition to his “uncles,” Eugene collaborates with a lot of contemporary musicians. Gogol Bordello toured with System of a Down during the latter group’s reunion tour recently, and has worked with other bands ranging from Rage Against The Machine to Manu Chao and many others. The Russian music scene is seemingly the only area in which Gogol Bordello hasn’t yet collaborated with anyone.
“I would love to work with some Russian artists, but we need some contacts for that,” said Hutz. “We were friends with System of a Down and Rage Against The Machine for years before we actually shared the stage with them. On the U.S. rock scene, everyone is very supportive of one other and people really do things together. It feels healthy, creative and normal, the way it should be. So for me, friendship comes first in this matter.”
Despite regular time-consuming tours, the members of Gogol Bordello still find time to write new material. Eugene Hutz told The St. Petersburg Times that work on the group’s new album was underway, and that fans could look forward to some surprises.
When on tour, Gogol Bordello is known for its love of partying. Almost every song is accompanied by Hutz’s exuberant shouts of “Party!” The band is also famous for its after-parties, at which Hutz is often known to DJ. The singer promised to maintain this tradition at this month’s gig too.
“That is a fine Gogol Bordello tradition, and we will never leave St. Petersburg without an after-party,” he said. “It has become a tradition to rock out all night long till sunrise, and St. Petersburg is a great city for this.”
Gogol Bordello will perform at 8 p.m. on Nov. 23 at Glavclub, 2 Kremenchugskaya Ulitsa. Tel. 905 7555. M. Ploshchad Vosstaniya. www.glavclub.com.