Formed in New York in 1988, Gogol Bordello were the perennial underdogs of that city's "no wave" rock scene. Yet right now they appear to be on the cusp of fame. Ironically, this surge in their fortunes has little to do with the band's music. Instead, the current media attention surrounding them revolves around the film Everything Is Illuminated where Gogol's vocalist Eugene Hutz gives a deft comic performance.
For their third London performance - they debuted at Tate Modern in 2003 - Gogol Bordello packed the ICA. It's appropriate that they play art venues; they are as much conceptual project as musical endeavour, blending punk rock with a cabaret theatricality.
Hutz, born in Kiev before emigrating to the US in the 1980s, is whippet thin and frantic, his huge moustache and voluble personality dominating proceedings. Backed by thundering guitar, bass and drums along with a violinist, a shy accordionist and a female dancer who also shouts in the microphone, bangs on a bass drum and scrapes a washboard, Hutz acts as circus master for East European-flavoured mayhem.
Live, the band are far more enjoyable than on CD: their recently released third album, Gypsy Punks, stands as one of the year's worst efforts, being both tuneless and pretentious. In concert the violinist steps into the spotlight, gruffly singing and playing raw flourishes, while Hutz's cartoonish swagger helps overcome blatant musical limitations: the band only appear to have two riffs and most songs quickly devolve into blunt, headbanging thrash. While Hutz is obviously inspired by The Pogues he lacks anything resembling Shane MacGowan's talent, shouting rather than singing, and writing slogans instead of songs.
Not that at the ICA you could have any idea of what Hutz was singing, the concert being pure spectacle presented at maximum volume. The band's energy is infectious and in their colour, chaos and sense of slapstick, Gogol Bordello bear comparison with the films of Serbia's Emir Kusturica - both skim the surface of Balkan Gypsy culture without dealing with the deeper artistry and issues of the Romani people.
The show finishes with Hutz crowd-surfing, then inviting the audience on stage. Gogol Bordello are all sweat and no subtlety. And Hutz might consider following fellow singing thespian Russell Crowe's lead: focus on acting as the day job, keep music as a hobby.Reuse content