Friday, March 14, 2008

Gogol Bordello at the Warfield

Gogol Bordello played the Warfield in San Francisco last night. Their performance was outstanding - energetic, musically proficient, freakish and wonderful.

Having moved to California around the time of their first album's release, I just barely missed out on the first wave of this New York band's gypsy punk revolution. I became aware of them after seeing the film Everything is Illuminated, an excellent film based on a mediocre book, in which lead singer Eugene Hutz stole the whole show from Elijah Wood and so became a star. Recently Madonna has taken a shine to Hutz, and while I can't blame her, I hope readers will ignore that association and check out this terrific band anyway.

Eugene Hutz: 12 stories high, made of radiation

Why is this band so great? Well, I have a thing for Slavs, a fondness for both punk rock and shtetl music and a diasporic affinity for the Roma, whose roots can be traced back through history to my native India. So culturally, they're right up my alley. Their lively songs force you to dance with exuberance while singing along to lyrics like "all your sanity and wits/they will all vanish, I promise/It's just a matter of time." This defiant joy is, to my mind, what great music and art is all about. We have limited time here on Earth, but even as we age and decay every day, we will enjoy every minute, dammit!

Finally, who can resist a six-and-a-half foot tall moustachioed Ukrainian gypsy in hot pink stilettos? I mean, really.

Next week, Gogol Bordello plays the Southwest, followed by a super-fast European tour and an appearance at Coachella in April. In early May, Eugene Hutz promises to be back in Northern California for The 12th Annual California Herdeljezi Roma Festival, though it's not clear whether he'll be performing.

This also seems like a good opportunity to mention Paradise Lost: The First Roma Pavilion, an exhibition at the 2007 Venice Biennale featuring Roma-identified artists from across Europe. While the show was rough in many places, its spirit was robust, and it was an important step toward recognition and preservation of this unique and long-suppressed cultural heritage. Fear of a Roma planet? Not unheard of.

Damian Le Bas, Roma Europe, 2007

Other related bands: Balkan Beat Box, Leningrad, Yat Kha

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