“My Favorite Screwballs”, Gogol Bordello at The Danforth Music Hall

Sunday · October 19th · 2013

When Gogol Bordello was formed in 1999, I was 11 years old. Young, impressionable and still open to everything. My favorite things at the time were: The Backstreet Boys (I was 11!), Nirvana, (is that better?), summer theatre camp, my grandmother’s house, Disney movies, and Aerosmith. Punk and politics hadn’t really touched me yet.

Sitting on the steps of the city hall in my home town of St. Albert, eating my bagged lunch between morning and afternoon classes at theatre camp, I was laying on the grass listening to the older kids talk about their lives and trying to appear like I wasn’t listening at all because older kids can be pretty scary, really. Eventually the conversation switched from who had what role in which school play to music. Some names floated around, few of which interested me because at that point I was so far into the ‘all show tunes all the time’ daze that every summer at camp cloaked me with that I was probably more focused on the dance routine to Old Fashioned Wedding than who was listening to what.

I was both impressed and unimpressed, but the feelings were balanced equally.

It went on for a few minutes and then one of the girls said “I really like Gogol Bordello” and this intrigued me. The name didn’t sound English, but it didn’t sound German either. No one really responded to her so I sat up and asked “what’s that?” Of course, she had no idea what the name meant (according to Wikipedia ‘Gogol’ comes from Nikolai Gogol, a classical painter of Ukraine-Russian decent. ‘Bordello’ is Italian for brothel or gentleman’s club. The original name was Hutz & the Bella Bartoks, but was changed because the lead singer thought the name would go over too many American heads), but handed me her headphones and promised I wouldn’t be disappointed.

She was right. Although now I can’t call up the name or even the lyrics of the first song I heard, I was enamored with the fusion of sound and style. It was like nothing I’d ever heard up to that point. That poor girl basically gave up her Discman (I know right? Old school!) to me every day for that summer. Bless her. From violin to rock and roll staples, a little bit of rap, some serious drum plus funny and politically charged lyrics, it was the perfect catalyst for me to essentially leave my boy bands behind.

Fast track to many years later where at 25, I have moved away from home and gone to school, soaking in as much of Toronto’s diverse music scene as possible while trying to find time to eat, sleep, study, and work. Gogol Bordello hasn’t really crossed my mind in years, other than in passing as background music. It broke my heart when I was young not to be able to see them, and I hadn’t heard from them in so many years that I just kind of assumed they weren’t touring anymore. Silly me. I received a tweet from my girlfriend and her mom (Hi Mom!) asking if a “Ukrainian Gypsy Punk” band would work well for my new writing job. It took me a few more tweets to realize who we were talking about here and I pounced on it. Tickets bought, all that was left to do was wait.

I arrived at The Danforth Music Hall early. It was a venue I’d never been to before and I was happy to find that it was essentially an old theater where an audience member could see no matter where he or she was sitting. I found my way to my seat and sat through what I thought was pretty decent preshow music until my eyes focused and I realized there was a DJ on stage. I don’t know his name and I don’t care to. In my opinion, he was awful. DJ’s are supposed to be creative to the point of innovation, taking songs we’ve heard over and over again and reinventing them. This guy had no concept of that. He just spun records. And unless this is a school dance I didn’t know about (in which case I feel very déjà vu ish, as like all of my school dances, the date is nowhere to be found. And I thought that humiliation was over. Yea, right!) there is about as much performing in his performance as I have in untying my shoes. No mas, Mr. DJ. Don’t play that song for me. I decide halfway through this gong show that I am too sober for this and pick my way to the bar for a good ol’ Long Island iced tea. And coming back I am helped back to my seat by a very nice security man. My faith in humanity is restored.

Gogol finally comes on and I really have to fight to contain myself. First, as a musician, then as a fan, and then as a technical theatre nerd. Eventually I give up the ghost on all points and fan girl my heart out. Gogol has it all. The lead singer Eugene Hutz comes bounding onstage looking ready to spar with his guitar and his blinding clothing. I’m not going to lie, I have a crush on the guy. He sports a Captain Hook like mustache, a wonderful accent, and crazy stage antics. Who wouldn’t love him? Okay, maybe it’s just me. I am completely okay with that.

They opened with 60 Revolutions if my memory serves correct and worked their way through a bunch of gems, including Pala Tute, which you can listen to a snippet of below, thanks to the YouTube user AntonK.

Eventually they played my personal favorite, Start Wearing Purple which I’ll just let speak for itself below.

Eventually they played my personal favorite, Start Wearing Purple which I’ll just let speak for itself below.

And so ended my first live Gogol experience, and it was wonderful. Energetic from crowd to band, friendly atmosphere in the crowd, it felt so much like the coming together of a community. Something I’ll never be able to explain and you’ll have to experience yourself to believe. Another notch in my Toronto belt, and the biggest and most coveted one to date. So start wearing purple and count your revolutions, darling TO. Above all, love.


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