In combining the music of gypsy jazz, Ukrainian folk and punk rock, Gogol Bordello have made quite a name for themselves and attracted an ever-growing audience (and deservedly so), since their inception in 1999. It seems very much down to destiny that after 18 years, this multinational ragtag team should find a home tonight in this prestigious London venue. Accompanying them on the near 50 date run are kindred spirits Lucky Chops who open the evening in a rather unconventional manner.
A trombonist, a saxophonist, a trumpeter, a sousaphonist and a drummer walk on to a stage. It sounds like the beginning of an awful joke but that is not the case tonight. Far from it in fact as the brass five-piece Lucky Chops waltz onstage at The Brixton Academy to the surprise of 95% of the audience.
While I was semi-familiar with their 2015 release NYC, seeing the band and their bombastic creation in the flesh is no less bizarre. As they cycle through brass instrumental tracks, people slowly warm to the ludicrosity of the band. As Pedro Erazo, percussionist of the headliners tonight, joins them on bongos, drummer Charles Sams IV breaks into a heavily jazz-influenced drum solo. From there the band sail through classics “Funky Town” and “I Feel Good”, ending in a torrent of applause laid above the screeching and wailing of brass.
The whole sonic performance sounds like it could have been lifted straight from a Disney soundtrack, heck, it sounds like the audio-equivalent of happiness itself! Naturally, after spending months together on the road, this isn’t the last we see of them tonight as the spandex-clad crew exit the stage. All that’s left to say is that whoever decided to grab them as a support… well done, you.
Opening with set newbie “Break Into Your Higher Self” off the band’s newest album Seekers and Finders, the Gogol Bordello collective charge onstage and instantly electrify the front rows. Others further back are more reserved with the newer material though there’s plenty to appease a fan of any era of the band.
Highlights from the new album in the set include, “Saboteur Blues” and “Walking On The Burning Coal”, for the latter of which openers Lucky Chops join them (as they do periodically throughout the set). And while those two and “Break Into Your Higher Self” prove themselves to be future set-fillers, the night is much more a celebration of the already-solidified Gogol classics. “Wonderlust King” arrives very early as the third song in the set to massive approval. “My Compenjera” and “Alcohol” follow, where head honcho Eugene really shows himself to be a product of his influences. He bleeds emotion on these tracks, taking generous swigs from a bottle of wine.
The second portion of the set continues the mish-mash of new tracks and old-school Bordello gems, particularly from Trans-Continental Hustle and Gypsy Punks which earn mixed responses from curious indifference to euphoric elation. Regardless, what cannot be faulted is the band’s performance. The intercontinental, multi-talented troupe cavort around the stage in an unbridled and uninhibited manner. Nothing can hold them back. It’s the one-two punch of “Undestructable” and “Start Wearing Purple”off Gypsy Punks that elevates the performance beyond all presumption.
During the aptly-titled “Undestructable”, a bass drum is passed into the crowd which Eugene leaps onto without a second thought, where the cult-like mantra chant of “Undestructable” fills the 5,000 cap venue. While “Start Wearing Purple” doesn’t boast such theatrics, it levels the venue with an almighty power that comes with a body of 5,000 singing every word.
The crowd’s painfully drawn out heckles at an empty stage prior to the encore leave us genuinely wondering if the band are coming back or not. After what feels like an eternity in encore-terms, they do grace the stage for three final songs. Eugene hands it to violinist Sergey Ryabtsev to either “go back or go forward”. The stringsman chooses the later, introducing Seekers and Finders opener “We Did It All” and “Familia Bonfireball”, closing with a roudy rendition of the Gypsy Punk staple “Think Locally, Fuck Globally”. By this point, Eugene is plastered from the wine, making the performance all the more irrepressible. Thanking “the best friends in the world” in his bandmates and the audience (“much better than these Facebook friends” he adds) they depart, leaving behind them a triumphant wake.
Having seen them earlier in the year at the annual British Summer Time Festival, this is leaps and bounds ahead of that performance. The set is littered with 10/10 moments, headed up by Eugene, the truest punk of them all and so inspiring for it. The evening is full of cajon appearances, shit falling over, The Lucky Chops randomly walking on with their instruments from side-stage, shadows bouncing off the wall of The Brixton Academy and electrically-charged, voltaic solos from all instruments. The audience is enamoured with the band and there is dancing front to back like I’ve never seen. What a great band and what an incredible performance.