sketch

Undestructable!

It's not often these days that I see a band do something on stage that I've never seen before.

Last night Gogol Bordello were playing in Glasgow (at the Garage, on Sauchiehall Street, for those of you that know it) and I'd arranged to go over with dark_claw and lucklove. They dropped round at about half-five after I'd swapped some of the bolts holding the car wheels on and washed the grime off my hands . . . although that's a different story. After a cup of tea and a chat we left a touch after six, and after sticking some petrol in, got over to Glasgow with little incident apart from the usual M8 traffic jams. Parking was at the usual place, just by a hotel glorying in the not-even-slightly-suspect name "Malmaison". Not even a single comment was passed about this.

Overbearing body searches are, of course, compulsory at the Garage, and once more I got a more enthusiastic going over than I generally get at International Departures. Mark had his camera held onto (joy) but we did at least get in. The hall had a lot of people around the edge when we got there, but a huge gulf in the middle while the support band played. I may be doing them an injustice here, but the phrase "Eastern European showband" is what occurred to me. Their outfits were fairly glitzy and wouldn't have looked out of place in an ice-dancing competition. They'd nearly finished, though, so after getting a drink I didn't have much time to get an impression (although the man I saw later that I thought was the singer was wearing a rather punchy GB shirt with a trainingshoeesque swoosh and in big letters the word "PIKEY", which I rather liked). By the time GB came on, the place was very full. Fuller than for NMA. This probably reflects the fact that GB have had some media attention lately. Mark said that they'd had a big article in the Telegraph, but I searched in vain for the posse of retired colonels along for their knees-up.

Not long after eight - they weren't mucking about - GB came on. At first there were six of them, all men - Eugene Hüss singing with or without guitar, with a businesslike guitarist, a fiddler in his fifties (or sixties, maybe? Enthusiastic, though, adding vocals and cheerily egging the crowd on - skinny, with lots of grey hair and a big beard), an accordionist who looked, I thought, a little like Neubauten's Andrew Chudy in a Brazil football jacket, a bassist with a couple of Jamaican flags on his clothes and bass, who actually looked like a rock musician, and a drummer who I think actually started the set shirtless, although he was relatively soon joined. Hüss began with an open frilly shirt, a black Tshirt, a sash or belt, and a pair of Romanian football shorts over black trousers. All but the shorts and trousers came off fairly soon, some being used to thrash the drumkit on the way. He's another of these blokes who's never been properly introduced to the concept of body fat, although clearly he knows a thing or two about facial hair.

They played energetically. Very energetically. Most of the songs were off the album "Gypsy Punk", and in case you've not heard it I should explain that it's fast thrashy two-step Eastern European gypsy folk-punk played by immigrants based in New York - and I believe that as fast thrashy New York immigrant two-step Eastern European gypsy folk-punk bands go, they're one of the best in the world. They could certainly show a lot of other acts a thing or two. After a couple of songs the remainder of the band - two women - came on. They went on and off for the rest of the set, singing (lead or backing, depending), playing a marching band bass drum or cymbals, and throwing stickers or catapulting rolled-up Tshirts into the audience (none near me, unfortunately). Their washboards, when they got them out (!) had their names on them - Elizabeth and Pamela. Between them, Eugene and the fiddler, the front row was frequently a bizarre and engaging sight.

Most of their songs are fairly upbeat, but they did a good job of varying the pace and tone, either musically or via the goofing about, of which there was a great deal. It was a mad, mad concert, and they got the crowd going to the extent that even near the side we could feel the floor flexing. Eugene dived into the audience frequently, tried to step back to the stage via a bouncer's shoulder ("Who the fuck does he think he is - Iggy Pop?"), held a mikestand forward for the crowd to join in (to the bouncers' distress), and spent several minutes telling us how fucking good it was to be in fucking Glasgow. He seemed to mean it, too.

Anyway, all the favourites from that album rocketed past, although it has to be said that while they played them quite fast and only a couple with very extended endings overstayed their welcome, they played for a very long time - nearly two hours - while not playing a great deal not on that single album. How did they manage it? I'm very impressed.

Start Wearing Purple was fairly early in the set, so it was fairly obvious that Undestructable was the frontrunner for closing the evening. They finished their set, went off, came back on and played for another twenty minutes (I think) before reaching it (no multiple curtain-calls here, which was a nice change). They ran straight into it from another song, which I was initially very disappointed by as I thought that without the long slow buildup it would be bound to be an anticlimax.

How wrong can you be?

Well, as it happens you can be very wrong.

They raced into it and it was bombing along nicely when one of the women threw her marching-band bass drum at the front row and pushed it down on them so they were holding it nice and level, leaning her weight onto it so they got the right idea. So there was the audience, with their arms above their heads holding the drum level a foot above them, then the drum being supported horizontally, and above all that, kneeling on the top skin, there's Pamela, beating it like a bastard. I'm told the bouncers' faces at this point were worth paying to see - evidently they hadn't been told what to expect.

After a couple of choruses of Pamela firmly establishing her credentials as the band's real Iggy impersonator - and at that point I was personally very willing to believe that she was really the Ig in a wig - she climbed back on stage. The drum didn't make it back for long, though, as Eugene grabbed it and mere seconds later had it back above the audience with him standing upright on it. He wins - and who knew drumskins were so strong? Not me, anyway. When he bent down to play the drum with his microphone, it made quite a nice noise, too. Those of you in bands could do worse than note that.

Anyway, colour me incredulous. I'm not going to forget that concert in a hurry. Go and google for pictures of them playing, but remember that what actually happened was about ten times madder and twenty times as much fun.

Reclaim camera, go back to the car, get chips, drive home, drop people off, go to bed, get entirely inconsequential phone call at two in the morning. The end. It's a mini-adventure.
  • Current Mood: impressed
  • Current Music: Gogol Bordello - Sally
Cheers. Yes, so you did. I don't check it that often, because very few people ever call me to leave one.

You going to be in the pub tonight?
I'm biased, but yes.
Great musician and showman.
Mind you I seem to have a thing for acts that need to tinker with their instruments between numbers. (The other being Alice Schwindel)
I certainly like the current album a great deal. Nothing off the other one I have really grabs me.