The Insanity of Gogol Bordello

Lead singer Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello came on stage at the House of Blues on April 2, shirtless, in tattered jean cut-offs with a bottle of red wine in hand. He conveyed all the debauchery and energy that one would expect from a band that describes their music as “Ukrainian Gypsy Punk Cabaret.” Gogol Bordello’s sold-out show in Boston—one stop in their ongoing North American tour—was as much a spectacle as it was a concert. Frontmen Hütz and Sergey Ryabtsev are a truly theatrical pair—as demonstrated by their hysterical performances in the 2005 film-adaptation of Jonathan Safran-Foer’s novel “Everything Is Illuminated.” With eight equally idiosyncratic members performing on stage, theatrics seem to come naturally for Gogol Bordello, but surprisingly the eclecticism of their setup doesn’t impede the formation of a musically coherent sound, which combines diverse instruments such as accordion, violin, drums, and bass.

The array of bizarre instruments reflects the all-encompassing nature of Gogol Bordello’s style, which fuses traditional Gypsy music with punk and dub. This musical melding serves as a neat representation of the cultural melting pot from which the band sprung. Though the band met in New York, the members are mostly from Eastern Europe and tell of their immigrant experiences through the use of many languages and culturally unique music.

Even the setting contributed to the organic eclectism of the night: the House of Blues could not have been better suited to the band. Diverse abstract paintings adorn the multi-hued, mural-covered walls of its three-story hall while nearly a dozen large religious icons—from the Om symbol and Star of David to representations of Ganesh and Hamsa—line the top of the stage. Gogol Bordello brought their own addition to this cultural smorgasbord with their iconic banner—a black swath of fabric with the words “familia undestructable” over the Soviet-propaganda-style image of a fist grasping a slingshot loaded with a red star—under which the band performed with a frenetically joyous energy.

The group’s focus, represented by the banner’s communist symbols and their motto— which translates roughly to “indestructible family”—belies their commitment to a communal effervescence. Nowhere is their belief in the power of shared experience more evident than in their live shows, where the audience is an equal participant in the creation of the wild atmosphere. Three feet from the stage, I was one in an ocean of sweaty bodies roaring and slamming into each other; all of us would testify that it was with all the rage and ferocity of actual oceanic waves. The lively ardor and spunk of this crowd was a response—almost a ‘thanks’—to the pure force and joie de vivre that Gogol Bordello and opening act Forro in the Dark emanated from the stage.

A highlight of the concert was the festive rendition of “American Wedding.” With shouts of “Brazilian Wedding” from Hütz, Gogol Bordello brought their Brazilian openers Forro in the Dark on stage to join them on the song, which mocks American weddings for lacking sufficient debauchery and alcohol—three days’ worth, according to the Gypsy punks. Following this display of cultural fusion and in keeping with the theme of family, a man and a woman from the audience came on stage after the song. He proposed, she accepted, and the crowd erupted in cheers.


Though no further proposals were made during the concert, the audience was no less a participant throughout the rest of the set. During “Start Wearing Purple,” one enthusiastic man turned around and yelled, “this is the best fucking band in the universe,” as the entirety of the audience embraced the chorus’s promise that “All your sanity and wits, they will all vanish … it’s just a matter of time” by shouting as loudly as they could and dancing with as many flying limbs as possible. This reaction, however, was not limited to “Start Wearing Purple.” Other fan favorites, such as “My Companjera,” “Break the Spell,” and “Last One Goes the Hope,” were met with similar reactions from the manic audience, whose enthusiasm eventually drew the band onstage for six encore songs.

Gogol Bordello is a band best seen live. The feedback between the audience and the group is perfectly suited to the all-inclusive nature of the band’s ethos and sound. Over the course of the concert, I recognized six distinct languages. Though it seemed improbable that any given member of the audience understood more than one or two of them, nothing was lost in translation.

—Staff writer Kelsey C. Nowell can be reached at