Brooklyn-based "gypsy punk" ensemble Gogol Bordello might be, by acclamation, the best live rock band on the planet right now. My lone personal experience of the band says yes to this, as does the ample evidence on YouTube.
On stage, lanky Ukrainian frontman Eugene Hutz stalks the stage with an acoustic guitar strapped to his back, testifying into the microphone via intentionally broken English lyrics that manage to be both utterly conversational and packed with picket-sign- or bumper-sticker-worthy slogans. He's always flanked by two retirement-aged Russian tough customers on accordion and violin as two female dancers/singers/percussionists/mascots dart and weave around the band like extras from a punk-version of Cirque du Soleil. Live shows are rarely so batshit crazy while retaining so rich and palpable a sense of musicality.
Gogol Bordello was a scruffy New York-scene rumor for much of the decade, before matching their live rep on record with 2005's astounding Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike. An album that delivered everything its evocative title promised, Gypsy Punks seemed like a career peak. Until now. Gogol Bordello's follow-up, Super Taranta!, leapfrogs Gypsy Punks en route to frontrunner status in any album-of-the-year discussions.
Less than 30 seconds in, on "Ultimate," Hutz delivers the Lyric of the Year: "There were never any good old days/They are today/They are tomorrow/It's a stupid thing we say/Cursing tomorrow with sorrow," he spits, kicking our collective, growing sense of dread square in the teeth. Ever the hedonistic utopian, Hutz opens Super Taranta! on a leap of faith, calling out for "a new culture of life" and a "new history of time." Such talk would seem silly or pretentious if the extreme commitment of the band's raucous, rootsy party music didn't back it up so thoroughly.
The opening pairing of "Ultimate" and the lead single "Wonderlust King" (in which Hutz travels the world "hunting and gathering first-hand information/challenging definitions of sin") is an untoppable intro, after which the band settles into a musically and philosophically consistent groove before rising up for a nearly as thrilling conclusion.
The penultimate pairing of "Your Country" and "American Wedding" situates the band's battery of immigrant songs in the context of their adopted home. "Your Country" isn't anti-American (it doesn't actually specify the "country" in question, the implication being that all apply) as much as anti-patriotic in a general sense, with Hutz and his songbird sidekicks all but taunting the listener: "Your country raised you/Your country fed you/And just like any other country, it will break you/On front line send you." Meanwhile, "American Wedding" expresses general disgust with the titular event because the alcohol runs out and the party ends by 1 a.m. "I understand the culture's of a different kind/But here word 'celebration' just doesn't come to mind!" Hutz shrieks.
Musically, Gogol Bordello's signature sound is the crosscurrent of violin and accordion riffs and melodies that come from the guys who look like Russian mob heavies or grizzled stevedores, with Hutz sometimes pushing the rhythm along with his own acoustic guitar. Laying the foundation is a power trio made up of an Israeli guitarist, Ethiopian bassist, and American drummer. For most rock fans unfamiliar with Eastern European music of any type, it'll signify the Pogues, though without any of that band's drunken romanticism. With Gogol Bordello, there's always clarity in the chaos.
Much like Booker T. & the MGs at a different point in time, the band's make-up is its own message — the connection they care about is "tribal" — by which they mean of the spirit — rather than national. "We're gonna turn frustration into inspiration ... such is the method of tribal connection," they promise.
It's immigrant music — stateless yet still rooted. It's a movable feast of sound and spirit that asserts that home isn't a place but something you carry around with you. With culture clash, immigration strife, and global economics spinning our world around, this is a band — maybe the band — of our time.
— Chris Herrington