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Gogol Bordello with Ouija Radio (Thursday, April 28th, Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis)
Gogol Bordello


By Cyn Collins

Gogol Bordello was back in Minneapolis Thursday night to play to a much larger crowd than they did when they played the 7th Street Entry in May of last year. [See this review from The Big Ticket Blog.] The band has become notorious for their wild shows and was enjoyed by many at SXSW this spring. The crowd at the Fine Line also got to enjoy one of the wildest and best live local bands in town as Ouija Radio set the stage for the high theater to come.

Ouija Radio

Ouija Radio continues to amp up their live performances, drawing more and more live music fans into their circle. I continue to be awestruck by Christy Hunt’s monster guitar chops and great vocal skills. Hunt and partner/drummer Charles Gehr, keyboardist Sarah Huske, and bassist, Matt Belz adeptly traverse musical styles -- garage-rock, psychedelic rock, Goth, heavy metal, speed metal – with an alchemy that yields pure gold.

“The Devil and the Witch,” had speed metal qualities, “Grace,” featured spiraling vocals (“around and around and around”) and melody, with the guitars and rhythms chasing and pushing the beat, then withdrawing. The wild East European gypsy rhythms of “Old Victrola” whet the audience's appetite for the Gogol Bordello show ahead.

“Eye of the Storm,” featured dreamy 60’s psychedelic bells, rhythms and vocals reminding me of early Patty Smith, growling and sweet at the same time. Hunt stood on top of Charles’ drums while he played her guitar with her--they took turns doing notes on the fingerboard. It was an erotic guitar moment I had never seen before.

During the last song, Gehr juggled numerous drumsticks high into the air, one after another in rapid succession – while continuing to play. Ouija Radio’s live shows are not to be missed.

Gogol Bordello

“I’m so happy to be at this show!” was a sentiment expressed by numerous friends scattered amongst the eclectic audience: West Bankers, punks, nomadic types, anarchists, gypsies. . . I sensed the mounting anticipation in the room like electricity, and said excitedly to a friend, “This is going to be a mess!” And, indeed it was.

Gogol Bordello, led by the charismatic, wild-eyed and mustachioed lead, Eugene Hutz (vocals, acoustic guitar) kicked off hard, wild and fast with heavy ‘80’s rock rhythms. Drummer Eliot Ferguson laid down a disco beat aid on top of the East Euro gypsy fiddle and vocals of Sergey Rjabtzev, accordion by Yuri Lemshev, bass by Rea Mochiach, and guitar/vocals by Oren Kaplan and turned the rock song into an uninhibited dance party. The self-described, “gypsy punk cabaret” was an indescribable hedonistic spectacle.

The two percussionist dancing women (Pam Racine and Elizabeth Sun) were (theatrically) grabbed by the hair and shoulders and playfully tossed about like rag dolls by Hutz. The women screamed at the top of their lungs (causing many to cathartically follow suit through the night in sheer abandon.) The women who were similarly dressed with kneepads, dramatic Maori-like face paint and wild hats with long fake hair braided with garlic, enthusiastically played washboards at the front in perfect unison while Hutz kicked wildly at the people in the front row and held out the mike for people to scream and sing along. This aggressive absurdist circus of a show drove the audience crazy.

Everyone danced up and down like pogo sticks, the entire crowd became one big multinational mosh pit. Accordion solos by the dark mysterious looking Lemeshev drew wild screams of joy, something you don’t hear accordions doing in this town. But nothing about this show was like anything I had ever seen. The lascivious violin playing of Rjabtzev (from Russia) was some of the best I have ever heard – plus he danced like crazy. Later, Rjabtzev informed me that he’d played since he was 16, for nearly thirty years.

Wearing a belly dancer style skirt with bells over jeans, indefatigable thin wiry Hutz at times converted his mike into something like a pogo stick that he’d shimmy up and sing passionately, towering over the audience. Hutz, from the Ukraine, sang humorous radical political songs from their CDs Multi-Contra Culti : “Occurrence on the Border (Hopping on a Pogo-Gypsy Stick),” “Let’s Get Radical,” and Punk Rock Parranda,” and the new East Infection EP’s: “Ave. B,” cover of Manu Chao “Mala Vida,” and “Strange Uncles from Abroad.”

The band moved through the rhythms of the world – East European, Israeli, French, Latin, funk, ska, reggae, punk, hip-hop, Black Sabbath like heavy metal, disco . . . all irresistible rhythms making the crowd dance. Strategic pauses for emphasis and drama gave dancers a chance to catch their breath, then another onslaught of wild oompa pa rhythms and violin/accordion melodies would bring on more relentless pandemonium. The beat transitioned from wild and fast to slow and hypnotic. Their timing drove people crazy. Every time we thought a song was over, Gogol Bordello would kick it back into action again, teasing the audience who they had eating out of their hands.

Hutz pulled out a big red metal bucket painted with black letters, “FIRE” and tossed confetti into the audience. Later he rattled a full beer around in the bucket for splattering the audience and making another innovative percussive racket. Racine on cymbals and Sun on bass drum, and both on the washboards, (as well as the FIRE bucket) provided intense percussion with huge, sultry energy and synergy.

People joined the dance party, forming snake chains, and circles, spinning and dancing with people they’d never met. It was like a giant wedding dance, and by the end we all felt we knew each other. (I learned that I can’t jump up and down and take notes at the same time.)

When the band finally left the stage they were demanded back with a deafening roar of screams, chants, and stomping. They played several more songs, sustaining the energy, nobody wanting it to end. But the bar had to close.

I was bereft for days after, wandering listlessly and wistfully from show to show, seeing audiences standing and sitting, expressionless listening to tight bands with restraint. This is Minnesota. A few nights later, I heard someone scraping a plastic dishtray, in rhythms that reminded me of Gogol’s washboards and was sad that they’re no longer here.

This was the most uninhibited physical show I’ve ever been to, and I wish that there were more of its ilk here. In the meantime, one of the only cures for the aftershow pangs of absence of the East Euro gypsy punk style show are The Knotwells’ shows (May 12th at Lee’s and June 3rd at 7th Street Entry) also gypsy and twangpunk who also intensely cathartic physical and vocal experiences.

Cyn Collins is cyn.collins@howwastheshow.com

Related links:

Check out these photos from a Gogol Bordello show at the National, Brighton Beach, May 28th, 2004