The show started with Eugene, of course. Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello is very much about making music as a collective, but at the same time it’s very much about lead singer Eugene Hutz, a thickly accented Ukrainian with Roma (Gypsy) ancestry who moved to Burlington, Vt., in 1992 as a political refugee with his family.
Traditional Gypsy music was piped in as a shirtless Eugene, wine bottle in hand and guitar strapped to his back, strutted onto the stage Saturday night at Burlington’s Higher Ground, for what the band called on Facebook a“long awaited homecoming show.”
Eugene was soon followed onto stage by the rest of the band: violin player Sergey Ryabtsev, bassist Thomas Gobena, drummer Oliver Charles, guitar player Michael Ward, accordion player Pasha Newmerzhitsky, and Pedro Erazo-Segovia and Elizabeth Sun, who both do vocals and percussion.
Lutz played the guitar and sang the beginning of “Illumination” telling the crowd, “You are the only light there is for yourself my friends.” The rest of the band joined in after a verse. That lighter song made way to “Ultimate” a song with a heavy up and down beat that got the entire crowd jumping already, just two songs into the show.
They went on to rock through 15 more songs — including five from the band’s newest album, Pura Vida Conspiracy released in 2013 — plus four encore tunes. They also ripped through older hits like “Start Wearing Purple” “Think Locally, Act Globally” and “Not a Crime”.
The crowd was super engaged, with the entire floor area bouncing with the beats. The pit was intense and sweaty but not too scary, and crowd surfers popped up here and there but weren’t a regular occurrence. The frantic rhythms did chill out at points to drum jams and bass solos, then they would pick back up again, working the audience into a frenzy.
Eugene was a lot of fun, asking the crowd, “Ya dig, ya dig, ya dig, ya dig?” and interacting plenty in between songs. He yelled to the audience to start a circle pit, and he spilled red wine all over the audience as he used the same hand to hold up his mic and bottle, while he shook his guitar in the air with his other hand. He even made fun of audience members toward the end of the show for acting like they were tired. Saturday was the second in a two-night run for Gogol at Higher Ground, and Eugene said he had tired them out too much.
The other band members were all interesting characters, too. Elizabeth looked like she wanted to cast a spell on you as she waved her arms around and leaned into her mic. Pasha, who looked like a British soccer hooligan, somehow made accordion playing look sexy as he energetically pumped the instrument. Pedro added some hip hop elements as he growled into the mic and pounded a drum he had strapped to his chest.
With eight people on the stage, you’d think it would turn into a bit of a mess, especially when they’re all as energetic as this crowd of musicians. But they placed platforms at the front of the stage, so Eugene could jump up there when the spirit took him, or Elizabeth and Pedro could flank him on there when there was a big vocal moment, or Thomas could jump up when the bass line was featured.
At times the movement looked coordinated, but at others, it seemed as though musicians were coming, going and lounging around on stage doing their own thing, giving it a feel of a Gypsy camp.
There were two cameras filming the entire show, one from in front of the stage and one from farther back, for a documentary being made about the band, so watch for shots of Higher Ground when it comes out!
Gogol Bordello has several other dates coming up around New York state, including Port Chester Saturday, July 19; Clifton Park Tuesday, July 22; and Rochester Saturday, July 26. To see their show date, go to www.gogolbordello.com. For info about other shows at Higher Ground, go to www.highergroundmusic.com.