I to see Gogol Bordello again! I don’t see a lot of acts more than once (unless they are local). So that tells you the first round was a good enough show for a second helping. And this time I wore lots of purple and put on full purple make-up because, “Start wearing purple, now!” You can read about the glories of the first night I saw them RIGHT HERE. This way I won’t need to repeat the glories of Gogol Bordello and can focus on the takeaways from this 2nd serving.
The short version: It was rowdy and fun with the expected mosh pit. I stayed at the edge of the pit for most of the show. Sound quality needed work as vocals were not upfront so you couldn’t hear the awesome belting like you should have. Some very odd crowd behavior. But overall a fabulous mix of all types. I wonder if the off energy is a post pandemic malaise. But punk traditions live on in full bloom at a Gogol Bordello show. So if you haven’t been… go (and wear purple)!
Gogol Bordello were as I remember them from my first time a loud, energetic, band with intent and zero patience with, “no for an answer”. Frontman Eugene Hütz at few points during the show gave two direct middles to the audience in the balcony for staying seated. And as I remember him, drank from the bottle live on stage as he perched himself, on speakers, and sneered at the crowd with an, “is that all you’ve got attitude”. And the rest of the band brought a tight but frenetic energy that matched what Hütz was delivering. But even so it felt a little more reigned in, maybe it was the audience energy (more on them in a moment) that kept the band back. Maybe it was a post pandemic recoup.
Also, this round the sound production was messy. The vocals (especially for the back and co-leads) were drowned out in the mix and I could tell Ashley Tobias was belting some great notes but you couldn’t hear them in all the cacophony. And what a cacophony! The slam dance pit while not as bombastic as I remember it but it was still a serious and legit pit. And people who came unaware there was a pit, much like last time, lost beers, and phones, and bows from their hair, and friends.
But something else came with that cacophony and I don’t know the right word but, “party-pooper” comes to mind. For those who have not been to the Warfield. You don’t need to be right up front at the stage on the main floor. There is great viewing and energy one or even two small flights up on the main level so if pogo and slam dance are not your jam or good for your bad back… To quote Curtis Mayfield, “Move on up!”
To stand even at the edge of the pit is a fight for survival. A metaphor so apt for band whose music focuses on the immigrant experience. And so it confounded me that a father could be, not on the edge of the pit, but IN THE PIT shouting angrily, “Watch it buddy!” While shoving people furiously back into the throngs.
Uh… Is this your first coffin ship cruise? And next to him was his teenage son who spent the whole show looking like he wanted nothing more than to get out of the pit because all the thrashing and bumping was going to make him vomit or make him seriously annoyed. I don’t know the backstory on how those two ended up there but it was a little sad to see how clearly the son was not enjoying himself being shoved around and for whatever reason didn’t leave the pit to safer spaces.
Another weird audience moment was seeing a group sitting in front of the stage chatting before the show began and one person was literally cutting another person hair. I mean there were clumps of hair on the floor by the time the opening act began. And when the music began they were all in. Still, that was so strange but a Gogol Bordello show is a band of gypsies, tramps, and thieves. And those thieves were certainly present pushing their way to the front and in front of people who arrived early following the, “first come first serve tradition”.
It is a rare occasion when I take space in my mind (or writing) to consider punching somebody. But there was a girlfriend (early thirties) and THAT guy. That guy just bulldozed his way to the front like nobody else existed, with a smug face, declaring he knew exactly how tall he was. Then spent his time shouting stupid jokes during the opening act that nobody but me and maybe six other people could here, let alone understand. He was like a rejected Statler and Wladorf from The Muppets, “Not even my beer makes this better!” The word meathead comes to mind. But- the opening act Crazy and the Brains a punk band from New Jersey were playing so I had no time for punching. I had to dance. And those around me were not having it. I don’t understand this common concert BS of not giving your all to the opening act. These are the folks working the trenches and putting skins on the wall so even if I don’t care for the music I still support the damn effort. But hard as they tried, nobody was willing to slam dance for them. I also think the poor sound mixing didn’t help. Last time the music sounded great in the front and the back. This time the sound was just so muddled every place I staked out. Even so, I went extra crazy when they brought out Ashley and Pedro from Gogol Bordello to do a fired up cover of Jim Carroll’s, “People Who Died”. And for their last song Hütz joined them to try and wake up the crowd. It worked… kinda.
The audience was clearly there for the Bordello of blood! And when they came on stage that’s when things immediately began to escalate in the pit. Oh- back to “meathead” and his girl for a moment. They left after the opening act to refill his beer and bulldozed their way back to the front center stage. She had on that smile of excitement you get when you are at a live show and, “up so close”. His looked smug like before. The pit began and they were done for. He downed his beer on his shirt and she immediately dragged him off because clearly the warzone was not going to be fun for her. I never saw them again but in my snarky mind I wager the show was his idea and being close to the stage was his idea and the ride home (there is no way they took BART or even uber) was a long conversation about how, “Why would think I’d enjoy that?”
I and mostly everyone else in the pit though got down to business. Those who did not were forced to or fled. It was as fun as I remembered, maybe even more crowded. But we all slammed, and pogoed, and clapped and chanted as the band played for what felt like three hours but was more like two and some serious change. And the crowd around me was very personable, smiling, making eye contact, and cheering along with you. And the mix was all types skin tones and presentations from straight laced to alternative with an extra side of piercings to people done up like real deal Balkan gypsies. And the age range spanned quite a spectrum too. I have to say this was one of the biggest highlights of the show because so many shows I’ve been to recently seem to lean heavily older then me or younger than me. As if I am stuck in this weird middle age zone where my peers don’t got to shows. And the rest don’t really mingle unless dragged by parents or forced to chaperone. But here everybody was getting along and getting rowdy and it was such a joy to escape the rampant tribalism for an evening.
My favorite moment of the night though was not a single moment but a beautiful evolution I witnessed. There was a kid who must’ve been fifteen, if that, alone with his back against the wall of the pit beneath the first tier. He had on glasses and jean jacket and white t-shirt looking very clean and cute. He had seen me dancing. And we occasionally made the, “how cool is this” eye contact you sometimes make with fellow music fans at shows. Occasionally, he would bob or sway with a smile on his face. But he was for the most part doing the wall-flower dance while I was, you know… a hurricane. So me and my adopted posse where bouncing about when near the end of the show the band launches into one of their best loved rave ups, “Start Wearing Purple”. And away we went. Out of nowhere this kid joined our little misfit band of piercings and make-up singing along as well. Maybe it was the only song he knew, I don’t know. But we accepted him as kin. Though when it was over he went back against the wall taking his wall-flower position again. I was going to coax him back over but music magic happened I was not expecting… The next song started up. And as me and posse began our sway, we watched as he looked around with a face that read, “Fuck it!” Then he barreled through us all right into the eye of the pit at fever pitch! A huge smile came upon my face as he quickly disappeared in the mass.
I never saw him again but in my mind after the show I gave him a high-five and bought him a band shirt because he earned it. That’s just me living out my big brother fantasy leading the way. And who knows maybe seeing my total lack of abandon or the free spirit of others gave him some courage. I don’t know.
But I do know that very moment he experienced. That moment in your evolution where you take control of whatever his holding you back and enter the fray at it’s center. “It’s now or never!” And no matter how you may come out, you come out changed forever and truly alive. I witnessed somebody leaving Plato’s cave and all it’s bullshit shadows to live their life. And you know there is know going back after that. That kid will never be the same.
It was beautiful. It made me cry. And, I am pleased to say in spirit of the Gogol Bordello revolution and the tradition of the music- was punk as fuck. The power of music ya’ll. \m/ \m/
WHAT YOU WITNESSED OR WHAT YOU MISSED:
Break into Your Higher Self
I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again
Not a Crime
Fire on Ice Floe
Knack for Life
Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)
(with Mala Vida interlude)
Start Wearing Purple
Solidarity (Angelic Upstarts cover)
Think Locally, Fuck Globally
Victim in Pain (Agnostic Front cover) with Jello Biafara
Baro Foro / Undestructable with Jello Biafara