It’s always a big event when Gogol Bordello roll into town. The transatlantic folk punks – whose membership is derived from seven different countries, centering on New York City, with mainman Eugene Hutz hailing from Ukraine – tend to skip these shores on their rare trips across the pond. One performance at Oxegen (in 2007) aside, they made their first real impression last year opening for Rage Against The Machine.
On this occasion, Gogol arrived a couple of days before St Patrick’s Day (a rescheduled date, having cancelled in November as a result of the French baggage handlers’ dispute) and got right into the festive spirit with an epic two-hour set that tested the patience of the curfew commissars backstage but delighted a crowd that fell surprisingly short of capacity, despite the late addition of And So I Watch You From Afar to the bill.
The crowd was relatively sparse for the Antrim instrumental rockers, but a substantial pocket of the band’s travelling fans had already commandeered the right-hand side of the pit and led the on-stage banter between songs. The Belfast-based band have had a massive year, taking in tours of the United States (in support of Japanese post-hardcore geniuses Envy) and eastern Europe, and have become air-tight as a result.
The set consisted mainly of new and recent material, meaning scant pickings from their revered 2009 self-titled debut. Tracks from last year’s Letters EP – ‘S is for Salamander’ and ‘D is for Django the Bastard’ – got an airing alongside titles from the forthcoming second album. Lead single ‘Search:Party:Animal’ strays intriguingly into Adebisi Shank territory, while the ‘BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPIONS’ delivers on the promise of its, err, unusual title with a delicious stoner metal guitar riff.
Having witnessed the band usher in the most recent new year with a stunning performance of their signature track, it was a little disarming that perennial crowd-pleaser ‘Set Guitars to Kill’ should sound comparatively flat and lifeless – as did closing track ‘A Little Solidarity Goes a Long Way’ – but those were just minor niggles with an otherwise barnstorming set that should see the band’s reputation further enhanced on the southern part of the island despite the incongruity between their dynamic, mathy instrumental rock and the depraved gypsy spectacle that was to ensue.
Gogol Bordello took to the stage a little after nine, trailed by their utterly unique frontman Hutz, sporting capri-cut tracksuit bottoms and a handlebar moustache to die for. Opening track ‘Tribal Connection’ – from 2007’s Super Taranta! – set the tone for the evening, which was largely made up of tracks from the cosmopolitan group’s extensive back-catalogue.
Of the new tracks, only lead single ‘Pala Tute’ stood out, and it was buried towards the end of the set – an implicit admission, perhaps, that the group’s major label debut, Trans-Continental Hustle, isn’t quite of the same vintage. With such a strong catalogue of songs, few were in a position to complain about the quality of the setlist. The group reached across all five studio albums for inspiration, with such gems as pro-weed anthem ‘Not A Crime’ and ‘Wanderlust King’ pulled out early doors, while Gypsy Punk’s ‘Immigrant Punks’ and revolutionary firestarter ‘Start Wearing Purple’ were whipped out as the night wore on.
The evening hit a bit of a snag toward the mid-point when Hutz introduced crowd favourite ‘American Wedding’ in that incredibly fake crowd-baiting way that Jon Bon Jovi introduces one of his band’s many iconic hits, and you got the sense the audience weren’t quite ready to bite either. Another sore point occurred moments later, when Hutz had a pint of Guinness delivered to the stage by a Dublin GAA shirt-wearing roadie (presumably an authentic Dub, judging by the Arnott’s sponsorship). He took one sip, mumbled something non-committal about culture, and promptly had it taken away. (It would later re-emerge for Hutz to dance around with and spill all over the stage, but crucially not to drink from).
A large Ireland flag was undoubtedly thrown on stage at some point – as is mandatory at such gigs – but then the frontman surprised everybody (most of all myself, having been decidedly unimpressed by the forced Guinness antics) by whipping out not one, but two Shane MacGowan songs for the encore. More impressive still, he began with ‘The Song With No Name,’ a relatively obscure song from MacGowan’s post-Pogues band The Popes – obscure enough, in fact, that only a small minority recognised the song, to Eugene’s evident surprise.
What followed was altogether more familiar, as Hutz and Ryabtsev united for a duet of ‘Dirty Old Town’ that brought the house down in every sense but the literal one. Given the amount of drink consumed on the night, it was a sensible choice, and definitely more welcome than the customary ‘Boys are Back in Town’ that visiting bands tend to knock out on visits to Dublin. Extensive negotiations followed with event organisers before Eugene was allowed to finish with a solo rendition of – an appropriate choice – ‘Alcohol.’
The house staff began to pump ‘Redemption Song’ on the speakers in an effort to get the band off-stage – the curfew having long since passed at this point – but the band graciously hung around to lead the crowd in a sing-song, a fitting end to what will surely be remembered as one of the best gigs to take place in Ireland this year.
Photos by Alan Moore.