Saturday, 5 March 2011

Gogol Bordello

Published in Rolling Stone (Aust), July 2010

Gogol Bordello

Late on Easter Sunday, I stand toward the back of the Jambalaya Stage and try desperately to take in what’s happening before me – Gogol Bordello, a nine-piece sonic juggernaught, awe-inspiring and huge, playing their first ever slot at the East Coast Blues & Roots Festival.  Frontman, Eugene Hutz, is the buggiest of them all, a dynamo plugged into the main-vein these gypsy punksters have themselves created over a decade of touring and playing.  It’s interesting watching Hutz in this mode too, as not two hours beforehand, in the band’s dressing room where I got a chance to pick his brain, the man is the picture of calm; serene and thoughtful, he belies his onstage persona and energy, something he and the band are bringing here for the first time.

“It’s been a very cool tour,” Hutz muses on the run thus far.  “I’m amazed at how many people know our material and are singing along.  Not only ‘Start Wearing Purple’ but a lot of stuff, basically everything from the albums that are out.”  Gogol Bordello, who have attained world-wide cult status since forming in 1999, were scheduled to play here three years ago but pulled out and as such, Australia is at the beginning of what will no doubt be a life-long love affair with this group, a group whose infectious energy and pounding live performance, puts them on a pedestal of their own.

The aforementioned energy and live verve is, then, captured to a tee on the band’s newest studio release, their fifth, Transcontinental Hustle.  This is a record which comes three years after the last – 2007’s, Super Taranta! – a time where Hutz (a man who is as far from conventional as Byron Bay is from the lower East Side of Manhattan, where the band are based), relocated to Brazil, no doubt influencing how this new record came out.  “Oh it did, but not in a way that the album is going to start with a piece of Samba or anything like that,” he confirms.  “You find inspiration but it’s through becoming part of the landscape and bonding with the land and people, kind of becoming a local.  My style is very documentary driven and I think that those songs come from particular experiences, you know, be it from a relationship with a girl from a favela, or be it a road trip to the violent side of Brazil with a bunch of guys.  And you will find it all on the album, it’s pretty straight up.”

Hutz goes on to talk about his love of Johnny Cash (whose writing influenced this record quite markedly, in particular his ability to “express complexity through simplicity”) and also working in this instance, with producer, Rick Rubin.  “He was the guiding light in the making of this record,” smiles Hutz of Rubin, who incidentally, with the American Recordings, brought Cash back to prominence in the mid-90s.  “It was very inspiring to join forces with Rick who had a vision, and we had a vision too, and luckily, they coincided…I got completely inflamed and excited, because it was like ‘Yeah! That’s what I think real music is’, and from then on it was easy.”

Watching Hutz on stage an hour or two after our interview, and it looks anything but easy.  Of course, he and the rest of Gogol Bordello certainly seem to make it so, and therein lies their appeal and what will no doubt endear them to Australian audiences – what they’re doing is so powerful and real, it’s just what they do, it’s them, it’s easy.  It’s just how Gogol Bordello roll.

Samuel J. Fell

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