Super Tarantara! It’s the (nonsensical?) word that Gogol Bordello uses to describe their music. It’s very fitting and appropriate as well, because while it might not make much sense it’s fun and exciting. Just try saying it – SUPER TARANTARA! Who cares if you’re in public.
Gogol Bordello uses a lot of world music categories from across the globe and mashes them all up into an infectious blend of weird and enjoyable music. They also call it “Gypsy Punk”, which works, but would make an outsider think it relies more on the eastern European influences of its lead singer Eugene Hutz. While his endearingly unpolished voice is perhaps the band’s most instantly recognizable feature, it’s not the sole unique one. Their sound incorporates everything from Latino rap to dub step.
Of course, the fans at Stubb’s Thursday night for the band’s show didn’t need a tutorial in the sounds of Super Tarantara! They were a dedicated group who were well versed in the sounds and lyrics of Gogol Bordello and were eager to celebrate everything they loved about the band.
Brownout, an Austin-based afrobeat group, opened the show. This big band looked at home on a big stage, where their many members could all have room to do their own thing. I’ve seen these guys on the inside stage at Mohawk and the stage was barley enough to contain all the members. Here they could reach that big sound that they aspire for. Brownout does its thing – Afrobeat Jazz and Funk fusion – really, really well. But that’s well traversed territory and they never really try to go outside of it. The members are very comfortable being easily categorized, from what I could tell. If they want to continue doing that for the rest of their days that’s great, there are certainly worse ways to spend an evening than listening to people play music they know very well. But you never really get a sense of ambition. This contrast was especially stark when compared to who they were opening for –a band that’s so hard to categorize they created not one but two genres to define their sound.
Gogol Bordello’s music really is a fun mash up to listen to, but their live shows are what these people were put on the earth to do. I’ve always been a firm believer that using exclamation points, capital letters and bold font to highlight words was lazy writing. But dammnit, the only way to describe Gogol Bordello’s live show is THEATRICAL! Props for energy and rabble rousing especially belong to members Hurtz, violenist Sergey Ryabtsev, and Elizabeth Sun, who’s doesn’t have any one particular job other than be exciting. Sun is especially a joy to watch. Her garb is reminiscent of what characters in a movie flashback to “the old country” would wear. In other words, she looks like every gypsy stereotype you’ve ever seen. Whether she’s sitting on an amplifier swaying to the music or marching at the front of the stage with a bass drum she’s always mindful that she’s there to put on a show.
Ryabtsey puts more into his performance than a violinist probably has a right to. With his job description he could probably easily sink into the back and more or less go unnoticed. But he rivals even lead singer Hurtz in his ability to bring the audience to its feat and get them moving around. He screams, gestates, spits and does whatever else might be necessary to make an audience member feel Super Tarantara!
Finally, Hurtz has the type of energy typically reserved for a pack of wild dogs chasing down prey. He’s maniacal, relentless and amazing to watch on stage. The fact that he an put all that out there while screaming at the audience for two straight hours and not collapse on stage isn’t just a testament to the band – it’s an achievement for the human body.
One of my least favorite parts about any show is how the area of engagement seems to be contained within a 20 foot arc from where the band plays. On other words, if you went 20 feet out from the stage and drew an imaginary line from where you stood to the left and right side of the stage, everyone within those lines would be dancing, throwing their arms in the air, clapping and responding to the band. Everyone outside would be nodding their heads to the rhythem of the music and checking their cell phones every 10 minutes. But, something strange happened at Gogol Bordello, the area of engagement disappeared. Super Tarantara! caught on with everyone in the audience and no matter where anyone was standing guys and girls were swaying, moving and throwing their hands up to the music. Everyone was feeling the Gypsy Punk. It was a big, loud and theatrical performance and every fan should have walked away with all their expectations met. Super Tarantara! indeed.
(Gogol Bordello performed at Stubb’s in Austin, Texas on April 14, 2011)