Photos by John Oakes
When you start going to shows night after night, the excitement starts to wear off ever so slightly. Please note that I didn’t say the magic. The magic is absolutely still there regardless of how many shows I’ve been to in the past week but, every once in a while, I envy those that don’t have this habit and know how to just spend a night in. Tuesday night was not one of those nights. I was anxious to get to The First Avenue Mainroom to see what I knew was going to be an amazing show.
After a quick dinner next door at The Depot (shout out to their amazing vegan brat and their killer cheese curds– with the dry rub, of course), my friend and I entered the historic club bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We didn’t know what we were going to get from the opening act Puzzled Panther but we both knew what headliner Gogol Bordello was going to give us and we were ready for it.
Puzzled Panther took the stage right around 8 PM. This duo from New York City is one of the first bands that Gogol Bordello vocalist Eugene Hütz has spent some time recording and, as soon as they took the stage, I understood the connection. Although I felt like their sound was a little bit hollow as it was just the two frontwomen on vocals and guitar and then Pedro Erazo (of Gogol Bordello) on percussion, I felt like they fit the unique style of the night so perfectly. Their sound definitely has a bit of that eclectic gypsy vibe that sets Gogol Bordello apart from everyone else but they also had a more standard post-punk leaning composition to their tracks. It’s really hard to compare them to much of anyone but if I had to, I would say it’s Siouxsie and the Banshees styled but with a little more world-music vibes scattered throughout the tracks.
I felt that Puzzled Panther struggled to really capture the audience throughout their short set. That’s not necessarily a dig against them as a band but more a statement on the power that Gogol Bordello notoriously brings to the stage. It was clear that people were at First Avenue on Tuesday night for one thing and one thing only- Gogol. The audience definitely perked up a little bit when Eugene Hütz joined the duo on stage for a song but, even then, I feel like people were too busy chatting and getting ready for the headlining set to really give Puzzled Panther the attention they deserved.
In case you’ve been living under a rock or just haven’t been following me for that long, let me give you a super brief backstory on Gogol Bordello. This group is a gypsy punk band. Yes, that is a thing. Their sound is mostly inspired by Eastern European tones and vibes but there’s also a hint of everything from punk to jazz thrown in there. Although there seems to be a fair constant change in the line-up, that kind of adds to the charm of this band. You may not know who you are going to see but you know that Eugene will be there to lead them all into a night of sweaty chaos.
I think that’s the best way to describe Tuesday night– sweaty chaos. I know it’s not nearly as hot up here in Minneapolis as it is elsewhere in the country but, for us Minnesotans, it’s starting to get downright miserable. That didn’t stop the nearly sold out (and I mean– super close to sold out– like maybe 20 tickets left) from pushing and shoving their way through the twenty-two song, two-hour set. The energy that comes from a Gogol Bordello show is one of my favorite things about seeing them live. You definitely get a sense of spastic energy from the band itself but, when you add a sweaty and active audience, you are left with a show where, even if you have no clue what’s going on, you will be lost in the magic of it all.
There were definitely some favorite tracks in the setlist from Tuesday night. Obviously, the biggest crowd response came during “Start Wearing Purple” which was played just before the band left the stage prior to an encore but I loved seeing how in to songs like “Immigrant Punk” and “Not A Crime” clearly got the audience going. Honestly, now that I look back on the set from Tuesday, there wasn’t a moment where the audience wasn’t into it. Even when Eugene came out and did a couple of acoustic songs for the encore, I felt like the audience was completely captivated, respectful, yet engaged in the performance.
Being Ukrainian, Eugene definitely has a lot going on in his life and surely has a lot to say. I was a bit surprised that he didn’t say more about the situation. He definitely brought it up and the audience stood and cheered in solidarity with his home country as a Ukrainian flag was held up in the front of the audience. Part of me loved how Eugene let the music do the talking for him but another part of me really wanted to hear him talk a bit more. Part of that is because I selfishly love his accent but, another part, and the main one if I’m being honest, is because Eugene just seems like one of those people that has a lot to say and knows how to say it.