Live Gypsy Punk Pandemonium

If you were to ask me how long it’s been since Gogol Bordello has colored my music consciousness, I honestly couldn’t tell you. I know that they have not always been there, with their high energy gypsy anthems, but at the same time, I can no longer imagine a world where “Start Wearing Purple” and “Immigraniada (We’re Coming Rougher)” don’t exist.

Photo by Erica Head/Andrea Martin
Photo by Erica Head/Andrea Martin

Last night I finally got to see Gogol Bordello throw down, and I can faithfully attest to the fact that a Gogol Bordello show isn’t a show….per se. It’s an EVENT. It doesn’t matter where you are in the venue–even if you’re not on the floor getting elbows thrown at you or shoved aside because a pit has broken out near you, you’re still involved. I know, because I was on the balcony of the venue they performed at In the Venue and I could not contain the energy that comes with a Gogol Bordello show. I was as involved as much as anyone on the floor, I just happened to be able to leave in one piece….and I got a few moments to check out the crowd to boot. Oh, and did I mention an amazing view of the band? No, I probably didn’t. Well anyway. Let’s back this blog entry up a few steps, and go to the beginning:

August 5, 2013.

A day that could’ve been like any other, except there was something exciting waiting at the end of the work day. I’d bought my tickets to see Gogol Bordello a week or so in advance, and even though the tickets were on my fridge and a constant reminder of what was to come–it hadn’t really hit me till the night before that I was really, ACTUALLY going to see the band that brought the term “gypsy punk” to the forefront. The band responsible for some of my favorite songs of all time, the band that went into an NPR Tiny Desk Concert and reminded the NPR staff that they cannot be contained in small spaces. THAT band. Gogol Bordello.

So work happened. Then off to the venue. Where I met up with some friends who were already there, and then another group of friends joined us. I had the fortune of going to the show with people already familiar with Gogol Bordello and friends who were not as familiar, but open to experimentation. I’m happy to report that the friend unfamiliar with Gogol Bordello was acknowledging their brilliance by the end. Anyway. We stood in line for a VERY long time. Doors–according to the tickets–were at 6:30. We didn’t get into the venue until an hour later, around 7:30. Which would’ve been fine….if it wasn’t August in Salt Lake City. For those not from here: August is blisteringly hot. And we were intimately reminded of this fact last night as we waited. I am grateful that we got there early though, even as much as we ended up wilting. Salt Lake City turned out in full force last night, the venue was packed.

Photo by Erica Head/Andrea Martin
VIZA ROCKS THE STAGE Photo by Erica Head/Andrea Martin

The opening band of the night was Viza, who describes themselves (accurately) as an international rock band from Los Angeles. I was rather unfamiliar with the band, though I’d looked up a song prior to the show and had quickly fallen in love with that particular track (“Breakout the Violins”). The band is made up of the charmingly charismatic leader, K’noup, the mustachioed madman who has a way with the electric guitar, Orbel Babayan, and bassist Alex Khatcherian, guitarist Shant Bismejian, percussionist Chris Daniel, drummer Hiram Rosario, and Andrew Kzirian on the oud.

Look them up and you’ll likely find them described as Gogol Bordello meets System of a Down. I’m here to tell you–that description is fairly accurate. Especially if you give their album Carnivalia a listen. They immediately impressed upon me the fact that they are heavy: the rock elements are strong with this band, but it is all very tight and controlled. The band opened with a cover of the Doors “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” which may be one of my new favorite drinking songs. They brought great energy to the stage, and each of the musicians were captivating. K’noup has a strong stage presence, and couldn’t help but win much of the audience over. As an aside: A friend I was with was totally into the music and we were on the balcony overlooking the stage and she’d been reaching her hand out over the railing. K’noup happened to look up and reached back. Accident? I think not.

Viza was an amazing pick for opener for Gogol Bordello: they definitely helped get some of the crowd’s energy up, plus did that super important thing that a good opener should do: Introduced the audience to music worth looking into after the fact. I’ve spent much of this morning listening to Viza’s discography on Spotify and am planning on buying some merch when I have the funds, that way when I run across them again, I can get some autographs!

A few tracks for you, then we’ll move onto the part of the evening that may easily have made my entire year: Gogol Bordello.


Alabama Song [Whisky Bar]

bizarre video. Great song. Especially live. Next time I see Viza live, I will absolutely be singing along to this song. If you’re familiar with the Doors track….this version is way more manic and awesome. 

Breakout the Violins

Vaudeville Rock at its finest. One of the best entry points into Viza’s music. 

Fork in the Road

I love his vocals in this track. And his intro to the song. Viza is made up of some amazing musicians altogether, and I fully expect they are well on their way to taking over the world. 

Trans-Siberian Standoff

turn it up. play it loud. rock the fuck out. You’re welcome. 

So Viza was great.

But of course, they weren’t the feature.

The headliner was Gogol Bordello.

Photo by Brian Bonell
Photo by Brian Bonell

And like I said earlier, Gogol Bordello has been part of my consciousness for a while now.

So what do you expect when you’re about to see a band for the very first band that you are completely and utterly enamored with? A band who put out a documentary like Gogol Bordello Non-Stop and whose live shows are reputed to be EPIC and part of why the band is so revered across the globe?

Frankly, you don’t expect anything….other than to be blown away and to have one of the best times of your life. Which is exactly what happened.

From beginning to end–it was one of the most amazing concert experiences I have ever been a part of. Eugene Hutz is an energetic leader, and with vocalists Elizabeth Chi-Wei Sun and Pedro Erazo backing him up and interacting with the crowd, it was impossible not to get excited.  The musicians were perfect, and had some incredible stage dynamics. The set list was extensive, and covered everything from “Start Wearing Purple” to “Malandrino”, one of the tracks off of their brand new album, Pura Vida Conspiracy. I have to say that the moment the experience got surreal for me was a few songs in, when the band launched into “Immigraniada (We’re Coming Rougher)”. At that moment the realization that I was really there and in the presence of one of my favorite bands.

Reader: I don’t know if you’ve had similar experiences in your concert going experiences, but if you have you’ll know what an intense, overwhelming feeling that is.

Photo by Brian Bonell
Photo by Brian Bonell

Back to the music: Despite the fact that Gogol Bordello has been on the road pretty much non-stop since July 20th, they took the stage with frenetic energy and kept it up till the very end. The great thing about a Gogol Bordello show is not just the music and the crazy party vibe, it’s the reminder that this band is more than just a simple gypsy punk band. Gogol Bordello’s performances of “Break the Spell” and “Undestructable” reminded the audience just how powerful music can be to a movement. As Hutz said, just before the final song of the night, “Undestructable”, music is one of the real freedoms we have. And one of the most communal things we have to bring people of the world together. The fact is, the Gogol Bordello fan base is more than a fan base. It’s a familia. And I’m ridiculously happy to be part of this global music family.

I’m going to end this with a suggestion. If you’ve made it this far in my entry, congratulations. This was probably much longer than it needed to be. But the evening was one of the most amazing shows of my life. If you love Gogol Bordello and have not seen them live–make sure you change that. If you love Gogol Bordello and you’ve already seen them live–go see them live anyway.

And go buy their new album.

And here are some more pictures for you, provided by some of Gogol Bordello’s super talented Salt Lake familia: Andrea Martin, Erica Head, and Brian Bonell.

Photo by Andrea Martin/Erica Head
Photo by Andrea Martin/Erica Head
Photo by Andrea Martin/Erica Head
Photo by Andrea Martin/Erica Head
Gogol Bordello 01 Brian
Photo by Brian Bonell
Gogol Bordello 02 Brian
Photo by Brian Bonell
Photo by Brian Bonell
Photo by Brian Bonell
Photo by Brian Bonell
Photo by Brian Bonell

3 thoughts on “Live Gypsy Punk Pandemonium

  1. Jason Bunting August 11, 2013 / 4:58 pm

    Don’t suppose you’d happen to have the full setlist, would you? I found myself in a couple of those pictures, I was close to the front, center. Awesome show – my first GB concert, as well!

    • riotgrrrlrevolution August 12, 2013 / 9:56 am

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the full setlist~ I was a little overwhelmed by all of the awesome! It was an epic show. Next time they come to SLC I may have to consider being front and center and brave the craziness of the floor. Currently, I hang out with far too many logical people who know how to find good spots with great views that aren’t in the danger zones of the pit… but really, it doesn’t matter where you are at a GB show….good times will be had

      • Jason Bunting August 12, 2013 / 11:05 am

        I’ve never been in a “pit” before, and I will tell you this: it was awesome. Everyone is smiling, ear-to-ear, the whole time, and it’s ridiculously hot and sweaty and energy-filled. I saw Andrew Bird there once, from the balcony, and while it was good, I think being closer would’ve been better. That said, to fully understand & appreciate the sweet, you have to know the bitter. 🙂

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