Gogol Bordello’s Gypsy Punk Brings Electricity- And Regina Spektor- To The Fonda REVIEW+PHOTOS: GOGOL BORDELLO @ THE FONDA 3/5/18
LOS ANGELES, CA- I think is has something to do with the floor to ceiling Hieronymus Bosch painting on the walls, or the purple lights that seem to be the lighting engineer’s go to before starting any show here. Or, perhaps it’s because back in 2014 I directed the Backstreet Boys Live 20th Anniversary Fan Celebration in this space [don’t judge]. Or, maybe it’s because I consider this my neighborhood venue. Whatever the reason, I love The Fonda Theater.
This venue has been here since 1926 and was originally built on the investments of Hollywood royalty including John Barrymore and King Vidor. I love its intimate size, its Hollywood history, and its tradition of hosting unusual bands I consider almost “off-the-grid” when it comes to mainstream music.
Tonight, I’m in the area designated for photographers. You know, that almost sandwich thin crevice between the stage and the front row of fans who probably got in line a little too early. I’m happy to be here, getting ready to photograph Gogol Bordello.
On tour, promoting their latest record Seekers and Finders, Gogol Bordello is finishing their west coast leg tonight in Los Angeles, before starting their international tour in Sidney, Australia. It’s a privilege to be here right now, witnessing this before it takes off around the globe.
The lights go down, the velvet curtains open, and the band’s percussionist, Pedro Erazo, declares “DROP THE CHARGES” and the group explodes into “Not A Crime”. It’s the 3rd track off of Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike and it’s one of my favorites.
That distinctive, Eastern-European sound created by Pasha Newmer on accordion and the violin work of Sergey Ryabtsev is so reminiscent of the music I heard as a child growing up in a Russian household on Long Island, that I immediately smile while trying to get one clean shot of lead singer Eugene Hütz.
He leaps around the stage with the dexterity of a grasshopper and it’s nearly impossible to get one clean shot. His thin physique may seem frail to someone who doesn’t know better because the level of strength he brings to his performance, lyrics, and musicianship are nothing but powerful.
Immediately, the energy in the crowd has reached mosh-pit proportions and I can feel the metal dividers behind me shaking as the first few rows push toward the stage. I’m shooting as quickly as I can along with about 20 other photographers who are all immersed in this chaos and there’s an electricity in this gypsy punk sound that makes the moment somewhere between an elation and a punch in the gut.
Hütz is dressed in his usual costume: part pirate, part gypsy, brandishing gun holsters filled with red roses. If there is an image that boils down Gogol Bordello’s entire message: it’s red roses in gun holsters. Their sound can be both violent and lovely.
I’m excited when this band, originally from Manhattan, moves onto a new track from Seekers and Finders: “Walking on the Burning Coal”. It’s the kind of track indicative of Gogol’s sound: rebellious, angry, compassionate, poetic. “Leave behind scenarios made for you / And stay on a path to your own pole / Ain’t no ordinary stroll / Gets the sailor knot in my chest undone.”
Hütz, who will always be inflicted and blessed with wanderlust, thunders in his Ukrainian dialect and sings these words as if in the middle of a protest.
After my time in the photo pit, I make my way toward my friend Kayla and her boyfriend Josh. I met Kayla in film school in 1996 and we barely talked back then, but ever since she moved to L.A. a couple of years ago, we became fast friends and seem to do quite a bit together: sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes it’s a hike. Tonight, it’s this concert.
Already a few cocktails in, she and Josh are smiling and I make sure I move on to my next drink. As we’re standing, watching Gogol complete a song that should be on every barfly’s Spotify playlist, Alcohol, Hütz takes a break to address the crowd. I can’t really make out what he’s saying, but I hear something like ‘he’s got a surprise…’. I turn to Kayla and say, if it’s Regina Spektor, that would be amazing.
The title of Gogol’s current record Seekers and Finders is also the name of a duet Spektor and Hütz recorded for the album. It’s a great track with lyrics like “Life quest for a unity / Death propels the community / To break all the dividers / To rip off the masks and tear off the blinders.” The melody makes me want to sway and I love when Spektor gets all rock and roll, standing on stage, gripping a mic instead of sitting behind a piano, just belting out lyrics in her incomparable voice.
Sure as shit, and only in Los Angeles, Hütz introduces Spektor, she comes out to applause, and the Ukrainian front man and the classically trained Russian chanteuse sing to an audience that has finally stopped moshing; enchanted by the performance very few will even be able to experience again (see the found video below).
Eventually, Gogol returns to performing their set which includes the songs that made them underground famous: “Start Wearing Purple”, “Wonderlust King”, and “My Companjera”. After a while, things get fuzzy because I’m on my 3rd drink and I’m essentially either jumping up and down or dancing while yelling the words to “My Strange Uncles from Abroad.”
The thing about a Gogol Bordello show is – it’s an event, an experience. It’s a parade of music and color and booze and dancing. It’s Eastern European suffering set to the tone of the Sex Pistols meets The Gypsy Kings. The line up is international, the sounds are universal, and the feeling created is jittery and ecstatic.
This is my 4th show and I hope it’s just another one in a series of Gogol Bordello concerts I experience in the future. I see and hear something new in every performance and I can’t ever imagine them getting stale. With Gogol’s constant experimentation, vivid presence, and musical prowess, that seems simply impossible.