I’ll make this as clear as I can: Gogol Bordello does not care about you. As an individual, you have no bearing on their show, their happiness or their day-to-day lives. They will take the stage, stoke your excitement and unleash a maniacal celebration of freedom that’s usually reserved for revolutionaries, but they aren’t there for you; they’re there for the amorphous concept of “us.”
Each person carries with them a list of moments in which they contemplated their own mortality. I’m 28, and if one makes it this far, there are a handful of instances in which the ball could have bounced one way or another. So far, it has fallen on the right side of the net and instead of being a tragic footnote, I have a few good stories. One of the few moments that populates that “holy shit I might not make it” list is the aftershow I attended in 2008 in which Gogol Bordello took the stage at the Metro at 11:30 PM and played for just shy of three hours.
I piled into the crushing mass of humanity on the floor after 12 hours of sun-baked, dusty partying, ready to ride a tumultuous wave of Eastern European lunacy around for a victory lap. Somewhere around hour two both my calves cramped up into knots, my mouth went dry and I became acutely aware how useless the human body becomes when dangerously dehydrated. I looked around and saw only the seething, roiling mass of bodies that earlier appeared much more navigable. Every direction was an unrelenting wall of sweat and hysteria, and at that moment I finally comprehended how little I mattered. I could have collapsed onto the floor and no one would have noticed until they realized their shoes were sticky from my insides.
I looked up, wondering if dying at an aftershow at 1:30 in the morning was the most metal thing I could imagine or simply pathetic, but then it dawned on me: it didn’t really matter. Dying certainly did, but the panic and fear of it was silly. There was an “us,” a wild, undulating sea of people that existed as one. I was one corner of a quilt- broken and limping as I was- and as long as the fabric held together, I would be fine. I threw my arms around a stranger and yelled, “don’t let me fall!” and he braced me as we belted out lyrics like war chants. I was scared. We were having a blast.
Such is the power of Gogol Bordello, perhaps the strangest and most intoxicating band I have ever seen. If you have the desire, they will help you get over the “me” of it all. They are a nearly incomprehensible mix of European gypsies, American musical misfits and hangers on that started wailing on instruments. They are bohemia shot out of a cannon on stage.
A man named Serge shreds his fiddle every set. Two South American women sing and smash marching band cymbals together. There are moments of ragged, rushed rhythms that barely hold together until the chorus, as well as clinically disciplined breakdowns. At the middle of it all stands Eugene Hütz, the consummate showman and bat shit ringleader of a production that feels like an unlicensed Cirque Du Soleil. Hütz is like an engine with the limiter off, at once exhilarating and unsettling; a man you want to drink with but would never follow to a second location.
To attend their show is to implicitly sign a release. You aren’t you anymore. You have joined the quilt, and as the fabric goes so do you. I can tell you the journey is worth the surrender. A truly great Gogol Bordello show is like seeing the Grand Canyon. You’ll forget what bothered you before, you’ll be lost in the wonder of it all and you’ll be acutely aware of how small you are.
You’ll also chant, dance, jump and wrestle. You’ll be part of a village; one that exists for a matter of minutes and loves unconditionally, but demands commitment of the soul. If that sounds like something you want, I promise not to let you fall. Just remember: the music isn’t meant for you, it’s meant for us.