Friday, December 17, 2010

DRUM MACHINES HAVE NO SOUL: GOGOL BORDELLO LIVE IN LONDON


15 December, HMV Forum
Gogol Bordello, Devotchka, Alain Johannes


When we get in, Alain Johannes is on stage wrapping up an acoustic one-man show. I keep trying to place his voice. Who does he remind me of? Damn. Then, some time between my first Red Stripe and my last ever Carlsberg from a plastic bottle, it comes to me: Brandon Boyd. In a weird, folk guitar sort of way.

Born in Chile, Johannes has got a CV you won’t believe. I mean, this old-looking bald dude with a square guitar’s worked with everyone. From Chris Cornell to Kelly Clarkson. Lately, he’s been adopted by Josh Homme and Brodie Dalle, serving time in Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Eagles of Death Metal and Spinnerette. But now he’s touring solo, promoting his new album Spark.

In London, no matter who’s playing, whenever you turn around there’s always some old guy in a Motörhead shirt pushing his way through the crowd with a beer in each hand and one between his teeth. He never spills a drop and it’s never the same guy twice.

Up next, DeVotchKas got to be one of the most unlikely-looking bands I’ve ever seen. Frontman Nick Urata looks the part. Then on either side of him you’ve got Sigmund Freud (Tom Hagerman) on violin, accordion and piano and one of my mum’s old friends (Jeanie Schroder) on double bass and sousaphone.


A lot of the time, DeVotchKa sound like a gypsy version of The Killers. Then they get all esoteric, with Hagerman over-sustaining a note on his violin, Schroder backing him up with her quivering bow and double bass and Urata completing the dark picture on theremin. It’s eclectic stuff. In-between, DeVotchKa even find time for a bit of mariachi and straight up gypsy punk, with Urata on electric bouzouki.

After a long break the stage goes dark. When the lights come on again, violinist Sergey Ryabtsev’s leaning over the crowd, working his way through a makeshift intro to “Tribal Connection.” Eugene Hütz starts singing, “What’s going on in your town? What's going on in your town?” Then it’s on.



Gogol Bordello’s one band meant to be seen live. Before I know what’s happening, they’re running through “Wonderlust King” and I’m off my feet in the front row. I don’t even know how I got there. It’s like I’m under a spell.

Midway through, the pit’s a sweaty mess. Hütz takes his shirt off and to quote Noel Fielding, “he’s so wiry he’s hurting my eyes.” Drunk idiots follow Hütz’ lead and take their shirts off as well. And for the rest of the night I keep brushing up against them, Along Came Polly style…

After an intense encore that seems to go on forever, Hütz introduces the band. And he’s all, “from Ethiopia… from Scotland… Russia… Israel… Ecuador… North England…” Finally, he introduces Ryabtsev as “the Russian professor of rock ‘n roll.”

Gogol Bordello’s the real United Nations - a magnificent conglomerate without a drop of prejudice or pretension. Their members are men, women, black, white, old, young… A mismatched, oddly shaped gang of brothers and sisters. And the thing that binds them is their intense passion for music and sticking together against all odds. Really, they’re a union of overachieving underdogs.

After the show people scour the floor for iPhones and other goodies. I lost my backup Samsung somewhere but I was on such a high, it didn’t seem to matter. When I get to the front to check Lost & Found, there are people queuing up all round the lobby, looking for wallets, Blackberrys and bank cards. All victims of the great Trans-Continental Hustle



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