Tag Archives: RIck Rubin

Bonanzatronic madness: Gogol Bordello at the Royal Oak Theater

6 Aug

Gogol Bordello sign

A band that can cause a real panic at the disco …

Raise your hand if you’ve never heard of Gogol Bordello … or if you have heard of them, raise your beer so you don’t spill it as you crowd-surf.

The eight-member gypsy punk outfit is led by Eugene Hutz, a Ukrainian by birth with Romani heritage on his German mother’s side whose family moved after Chernobyl  and eventually relocated to Vermont; he now lives in Brazil. Hutz is skinny and beaky, with a silver canine tooth, wild hair and a pirate’s mustache. He sings with a pronounced accent that serves his material well and plays a rugged acoustic guitar with rambunctious grace.

Photo by my concert buddy Davis Kurepa-Peers

Photo by my concert buddy Davis Kurepa-Peers

The rest of the line-up is just as internationally far-flung, with musicians from Belarus, Scotland by way of China, Russia, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Los Angeles. The name is an homage to Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol … and, well, a brothel. The lyrics are a mix of English, Romani, Spanish and for all I know, Esperanto. Their songs jump from pogo-worthy punk to ska to straight-up rock, along with several ballads that sound like what you’d hear at the end of a Russian wedding reception right before the last of the drunken guests are kicked out of the hall.

My partner is quite the fan of Gogol Bordello, starting with their 2010 album Trans-Continental Hustle. (I just found out that was produced by Rick Rubin, whose exquisite taste knows no musical boundaries.) She took our older daughter to see them at the Fillmore a couple of years ago and sat in the balcony as our daughter joined the crush of fans standing near the stage. After more than 90 minutes of mosh pit churn with the “gypsters” she was dehydrated and half-deaf: in other words, she’d had a great time.

Gogol Bordello blue

Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

When she learned my partner had gotten tickets for me and our younger daughter to see the band in Royal Oak, she had just one piece of advice: “Wear shoes you don’t care about.”

We arrived early enough to stake a claim standing one level above the main floor behind a railing so we could see everything without getting trampled. Our neighbors to the left were a pony-tailed guy and his girlfriend with an ice-blue pixie cut and flawless red lipstick (who, upon learning my daughter was 12, told her, “You’re gonna go far, honey”). On the right was Bald Tattooed Handlebar Mustache Guy, who brought half his family with him since he’d had so much fun at the Fillmore show. Who needs an opening act when you’ve got an audience like this?

(There was an opening act: Man Man, which brought funk and surrealism together in a way that might have made Frank Zappa proud … although someone will have to explain to me what was up with the guy in the neon green boiler suit and melted piggy face mask who wandered on stage during a couple of their numbers.)

Gogol Bordello puts on an amazing concert, even if you’re like me and don’t know the words to their songs (and have no desire to slam dance). Grinning the entire time, we were swept away by their energy and showmanship – although they aren’t as zany as in their earlier days:

Yet this show was not shtick or the “bonanzatronic madness” Hutz described in Mother Jones a few years back. It’s a combination of tribal tradition and new music, partying and protest: the world seen through immigrants’ eyes. As they sing in “Immigraniada,”

It’s a book of true stories
True stories that can’t be denied
It’s more than true, it actually happened
We comin’ rougher every time


See you on the flip side at the show I’ve been waiting for all summer: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at DTE Energy Music Theater August 23!

P.S. Looking for a rock and roll romance?  Love and Other B-Sides is available in paperback and e-book editions now on Amazon.


The Civil Wars: Ever so aptly named

6 Aug

Your public library: a rock and roll goldmine

Your public library: a rock and roll goldmine

Picking through the soundtrack CDs at the library is like panning for gold. If you patiently sift through the Glee compilations and dusty copies of Phantom of the Opera you’ll eventually find movie scores full of sensational rarities, intriguing covers of classic songs and great singles used to elevate crappy movies. (For instance, I got a copy of “ABC” by the Jackson 5 off the soundtrack of Clerks II.)

I hit a rich vein of nuggets tonight. I found both Breaking Dawn soundtracks, to my great delight. Trust me, I’m no Twihard – I’ve never seen so much as a screenshot from any of those movies. That said, all four Twilight soundtracks serve up an amazing range of pop and alt-rock that often is exclusive to the films; the Breaking Dawn discs feature everyone from Bruno Mars to the Noisettes. I also picked up the fourth collection from the HBO series True Blood. Unlike their Northwestern bloodsucking brethren, the musical tastes of these bayou-based immortals skew toward swampy blues and ominous reinterpretations of familiar material. Another intriguing find is Soundtrack for a Revolution from the PBS documentary about the music of the civil rights movement, interpreted for the film by artists like The Roots, John Legend and The Blind Boys of Alabama.

Then I hit the mother lode: the soundtrack to A Place at the Table, a documentary about hunger in America featuring original music by T Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars. I didn’t think there were more than a couple of albums by The Civil Wars, including the one debuting this week. Given their acrimonious and very public rift, there may not be any others.

The duo in 2011

The  duo in 2011

... and here they are just two short years later

… and again, just two short years later

The Civil Wars is John Paul White and Joy Williams, each of whom had been trying to make a go of solo music careers for several years before they first met in Nashville. Their voices are a perfect match, twining around each other like silk ribbons on the hilt of a Confederate sword. Their first album, Barton Hollow,  is spare and passionate, the aching romance of the music prompting most of the reviews to point out that White and Williams are happily married … to other people.

Together they hit it big fast: winning Grammys; touring with Adele; contributing a duet with Taylor Swift and another song to The Hunger Games‘ backwoodsy soundtrack (which I also picked up this evening); landing on many Best Albums of 2011 lists. And through it all, they were getting more and more distant from each other. By the time Rick Rubin convinced them to record a second studio album, they weren’t on speaking terms. White refuses to do any press for the album, leaving Williams to carefully speak only for herself about their current work and future prospects, as she does this week for Rolling Stone:

[S]he is hopeful, and ready to talk reconciliation. If John Paul and I can find a place to meet in the middle, I believe that there could be a future for the band,” she explains. “I would be open to having a dialogue … I would be open to trying to mend the bridges that I think we both burned. … It takes two.”

(For what it’s worth, Williams is the epitome of class in the interviews I’ve heard and read, never criticizing her former musical partner and asserting that she is as much to blame as he is for the band’s dissolution. How sadly rare is that?)

Given that they canceled last year’s tour while it was in progress, citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition,” I’m not sure when they recorded A Place at the Table. I am simply grateful that they did. They blend well with Burnett’s acoustic guitar and his simple, direct style as a producer. As The Civil Wars’ battles continue, this is a chance to savor a little more of their music.

The saga of the band could be a movie itself one day. One wonders who would be featured on the soundtrack.

See you on the flip side …

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