Thursday, March 21, 2019

The NuFolk Rebel Alliance, Gogol Bordello

I'm not sure exactly what made me buy this ticket. I'd say that I'm a casual fan of Gogol Bordello. I somehow wound up with their 2013 album Pura Vida Conspiracy, and I liked it enough to pick up their next one in 2017, Seekers & Finders. Both of these made my Top 10 Local Albums lists in their respective years (they're a New York City band.) But they've been around for 20 years, and I haven't thus far gone back to hear their back catalog. I think that at the time I purchased the ticket, I was looking at a few months were I didn't have much going in the way of concerts, so when I saw they were coming to Long Island (and with reasonably priced tickets), I figured why not.

I've only been to The Space in Westbury one other time before, when Denise and I saw The B-52s there (with Mother Feather and Iridesense) a couple of years ago. It's not a bad club -- it actually used to be a family movie theater owned by some weird old couple. (Denise has some stories about going there when she was a kid. God help you if they caught you sneaking in your own candy.) But Westbury isn't really close by me, and the club doesn't have its own parking lot, so you have to find a spot on the street. I hate doing this, because I'm always thinking, "What if I can't find a spot" (I hate having to drive around looking for parking), or even worse, "What if I miss one of those sneaky 'No Parking on such-and-such a day' signs, and get a ticket, or get towed? Or if some family that doesn't like people parking in front of their house slashes my tires?" Yeah, I'm really mentally healthy. But it is what it is.

The other reason I haven't gone there much is their booking. They get national acts, but they're kind of weird national acts. When they first opened, I remember Garbage played there, and they did have The B-52s that one time. But a lot of the time, it's other niche acts (like Gogol Bordello), or older acts that have gotten pretty obscure. Recent bookings have included Dave Davies (the lesser-brother of The Kinks), Warrant (who I thought was the "Hold Your Head Up High" band, but no, that was Argent), and The Blue Oyster Cult (who gets bonus points for being a Long Island band, but let's face it, they're getting to the age where they probably ought to start rethinking that whole "Don't Fear the Reaper" policy). Their next big show is something called "Tape Face". So in any event, this is only the second time I've been to the place.

One thing I do like about them is they're right off of a main road. Take the Northern State to Post Ave., go north a few blocks and you're there. You don't have to drive for miles on a one-lane street stopping at lights every two blocks like you do when you go into Huntington for the Paramount. So I was there pretty quickly, and I found a parking space up the block without too much trouble. (I was thinking that seeing a somewhat obscure band like Gogol Bordello on a Wednesday night might mean there wouldn't be much of a crowd. Turned out I was wrong about that.)

As I entered, there was a guy putting those bands around people's wrists. I explained that I had no intention of drinking, but he explained that they wanted everyone to have one anyway. This annoyed the hell out of me, because I hate those things. The sticky part always tears out my wrist hair.

I went inside to use the restroom. The only ones I was able to find were two handicapped single-person rooms. I'm assuming there must have been larger ones somewhere -- I don't remember this being an issue the last time -- but I never did find them all night. I bought myself a bottle of water ($4 -- still robbery, but actually much cheaper than you'll get at most of these clubs). Then I went upstairs to find my seat.

I was seated in what they call the "Balcony". It's not all that high up -- not as high as The Paramount's balcony for example -- but since the last time I was there, they've also added a "Loge", which is a small section of seats at the back of the floor level that must be raised all of about three steps. They had one young fellow there trying to usher for both sides of the balcony (and possibly for the Loge as well -- there were long periods of time where he disappeared from my view). This wasn't so much an issue for me, as I was there way early and the club was still empty. But it was an issue later on, when people started showing up and couldn't find their seats. There was a lot of up-and-down in the early part of the night, as people would take seats, then have to get up when they realized they were in the wrong section.

The Balcony itself is kind of weird -- it has three sections. The middle section, where I was seated, has all rows of what I'd call traditional seats -- cushioned seats that are bolted to the floor and attached to one another, all with immovable arm rests. But in the section on the left and the section on the right, the rows of traditional seats alternate with rows of red-cushioned pull-out chairs, and rows that look like long couches -- there are individual seat outlines, but there are no armrests or anything between them. They look comfortable, but they have to be a bit nightmarish for larger people when it's crowded, as you'd be bleeding over into the person's seat next to you.

As for my chair, I thought it was a little snugger than the seats were the last time I was here. But then again, I might be a few pounds heavier than I was back then. I didn't buy an extra seat for last night, so although I was on the aisle, I was a little worried I was going to be uncomfortable when the people next to me showed up. I scoped out some possible places to move to, but as it happened, I needn't have worried -- the seat next to me stayed empty all night.

The first thing I did when I sat down was use my car key to cut that stupid wristband off.

As the club started to fill in a little, I tried unsuccessfully to get a handle on the crowd. It was a weird one. There were some white and grey heads like myself, but there were also some people with very young kids there (especially for a school night). In the seats directly in front for me for a good part of the night were a young mother and her daughter, who I'd say was only about six years old, and there was another family there with a boy who seemed the be about three. The crowd was also of very mixed ethnicity. There were some people speaking Spanish, but also a lot of people speaking languages I couldn't quite recognize. Given that half of Gogol Bordello is either Russian or Ukrainian, I assume what I was hearing was various Slavic languages.

At 8 o'clock, the lights went down, and the opening act went on. (At this point, I'd say the club was only about one-fifth full, but it started filling out as soon as the show started.) They were called the NuFolk Rebel Alliance, a duet from Brooklyn where both guys played guitar and sang, and one also DJ'd a little. I had tried to look them up beforehand, but except for a couple of videos on YouTube, they had virtually no internet presence. Eventually, I figured out this was because this is a side project for one of the members of Gogol Bordello, their percussionist Pedro Erazo.

I was enjoying them at first. They had a distinctly Latino flavor, with Erazo being from Ecuador, and the other guy (whose name I missed) being Puerto Rican. I didn't recognize the first song, but the second and third were a couple of Clash covers ("London Calling" and something else), that were totally reworked and made into something original and interesting. Unfortunately, then the guys started getting into politics, and the vibe quickly changed from a "we" to an "us and them", with me distinctly being part of the "them". I was a little surprised by this -- I've never really considered Gogol Bordello to be a particularly political band -- but I really lost interest in the set after this. This was too bad, as musically, these guys were pretty talented. But I bought my tickets to be entertained, not preached at.

They went on seemingly forever (45 minutes, actually). And although I was hoping that because they were only a duo and that Gogol Bordello's equipment was already set up, it would be a short break between sets, it didn't work out that way. NuFolk ended at 8:45, and although there were a couple of teases, the headliners didn't actually take the stage until 9:25.

Now truth be told, last night was one of those nights when I almost stayed home and ate the tickets. I do that sometimes, if a show is inexpensive and I'm feeling tired or a little depressed, especially if its a show I'm going to by myself. So I had very nearly stayed home and watched a couple of episodes of The Umbrella Academy with my daughter. And as the break between sets wore on, I wished I had. That's how much my mood had soured.

I even toyed with the idea of leaving early, and just skipping Gogol Bordello's set. I had looked up their most recent setlists, and while they seem to be one of those bands that changes their setlist every night, I saw that this was a 20-year anniversary tour, so most of the material they played (sometimes even all of it) came from albums I had no familiarity with at all. But I had driven all the way to Westbury, so in the end, I figured it didn't make any sense to just leave. (Although in my head, I reserved the possibility of doing so if GB got as political as their side project.)

In any event, I'm glad I stayed. By the time GB came on, the floor section (which is a standing-only section) was fully packed. Even though we had some room up in the balcony, it was a pretty impressive crowd for the middle of the week.

Gogol Bordello came out firing on all cylinders. I didn't recognize any of the first three numbers, but they were super high-energy, and Eugene Hutz was as charismatic a front man as you could have hoped for. They did the first few songs as a six-piece, before being joined by their female backup singer, Ashley Tobias (aka TOBI).

Now a few words about the music. Gogol Bordello is usually described as being a "gypsy punk" band. They blend slavic and gypsy sounds with fast, exciting rock and sometimes with dub. It's hard to find a parallel, but weirdly, the one that comes closest for me is Black 47. Not that the two bands sound alike, but both are large bands that include non-traditional rock instruments (in Black 47's case, a brass section and some Irish instruments; in Gogol Bordello's, a violinist, some Latin percussion, and sometimes -- although not last night -- an accordion.) And both Black 47 and Gogol Bordello feature lead singers with unusual voices that, although not beautiful in the traditional sense, are effective for what they're doing. Hutz's voice is husky, and he sings (and presumably speaks) with a Borat-like accent.

One of the things I really like about Gogol Bordello is that they're clearly doing their own thing, and not trying to fit in with everybody else. For example, some bands with a gruff-voiced lead singer like Hutz might try to smooth out his rough edges by employing a female backup singer with a traditionally pretty voice. Not these guys. For TOBI's first number, her entire contribution consisted of intermittent ear-shattering Elsa Lancaster shrieks. Her voice is used throughout as something of a spice, rather than a main ingredient, and I have to admit, it's kind of effective.

In any event, this is a supremely confident band -- there's nothing tentative about them. They come right out and grab the audience by the -- um, collar -- and they never let go. They have a certain style to them. (Hutz wore a pair of bright yellow plaid pants that would have looked appropriate on Latka from the old Taxi TV series, along with a white gypsy shirt and a flat-topped hat, and TOBI wore a leopard-spotted coat for the entire set. I'm not sure how she didn't drop from heat prostation). And it doesn't hurt a bit that they're very tight musically. (And I have to say, the sound at The Space was quite good last night.)

The crowd was totally into them, jumping up and down a lot, and occasionally doing some light moshing. Even the little girl in the row in front of me bounced in place with excitement. And the crew seemed to pick up on the general sense of pandemonium, as they repeatedly ran onto and off of the stage, changing out this piece of equipment or that, all the while dodging Hutz, TOBI and Erazo, who periodically ducked out from behind his kit and ran to the front of the stage to add his vocals. At one point, when Erazo was in need of a drumstick, one came flying out of the side of the stage, sadly missing his outstretched fingers. It was controlled chaos.

For the fourth song of the night, the band did "Saboteur Blues", my favorite song from their most recent album, and the only one they did all night that I was previously familiar with, but it was all good.

Eventually, they did slow it down a bit. (They pretty much had to -- you can't go at that kind of fever pitch all night.) But even the slower songs were pretty good, including "Start Wearing Purple", which was one of their contributions to a film in which Hutz co-starred with Elijah Woods called Everything Is Illuminated; and a song called "Alcohol", which seemed to have been near and dear to the lead singer's heart, as he played the entire show clutching and taking slugs from a wine bottle, and getting progressively more inebriated. (He kept having to ask their guitar player what was coming up next, and he seemed blissfully unaware that he was in Long Island for most of the night.)

But they picked it back up again at the end of the set (I think the closing song might have been "My Companjera"), then did a three-song encore that ended with "Undestructable", one of two songs during the night on which TOBI came out beating on a large, thin, marching-band style drum.

I have to give this band their due -- they are very entertaining, and they definitely left it all on the stage. I left the club as a much bigger Gogol Bordello fan than I had been when I arrived.

I think these guys have played The Space before, so they'll probably be back. And I'm sure you can catch them in the city once in awhile as well. They're heading down the East Coast now, and then on a short European tour. But whenever they get back, I'd recommend catching them live. Their albums are good, but their live show is even better.

Update: Someone has posted a full setlist, and if they're right, "My Companjera" was done earlier in the set. I'm not sure they are, though, because I'm familiar with "Break Into Your Higher Self", and I didn't hear them play it the other night. Anyway, here's the full setlist as posted: :