Gogol Bordello at the 9:30 Club: A 95-minute show of many styles

Eugene Hutz and Gogol Bordello at the 9:30 Club.
Eugene Hutz and Gogol Bordello at the 9:30 Club. (Josh Sisk For The Washington Post)
By Mark Jenkins
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, December 31, 2010; 6:58 PM

Eugene Hutz has restless continent syndrome. The Ukrainian Gypsy musician, whose Gogol Bordello played the first of two sold-out nights at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, arrived in New York in the 1990s but just couldn't stay. He now lives in Brazil and is usually on the road with his voraciously eclectic band. The octet, whose latest album is titled "Trans-Continental Hustle,'' includes musicians from Russia, Ethiopia, Israel, Ecuador and China by way of Scotland.

The group opened with one of several internationalist anthems, "Tribal Connection,'' a folkie rabble-rouser with a reggae beat, a hip-hop interlude and Slavic violin and accordion accents. As the 95-minute show continued, stylistic shifts occurred roughly as often as the musicians switched instruments or rushed to another part of the stage. Percussionist Pedro Erazo periodically lunged forward to rap a few lines, backup singer Elizabeth Sun sometimes strapped on a drum to provide marching-band beats, and Hutz alternated among banjo and various guitars while doffing his hat, jacket and eventually shirt.

Brazilian music is the new addition to Gogol Bordello's brew, but Hutz doesn't really have the patience for the bossa nova. Gentle passages soon yielded to vigorous ones, and the word "samba'' lost its cool when turned into a football-style chant. If the girl from Ipanema had sauntered onstage, she probably would have been singed by one of guitarist Oren Kaplan's heavy-metal flourishes.

Gogol Bordello's style is descended from the Clash's "Sandinista'' and Franco-Spanish cult band Mano Negra, and shares those predecessors' political outlook. While such thumpers as "Break the Spell'' (of "isolation'' and other bad stuff) and "Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)'' weren't all that eloquent, they were spirited and well-meaning. If enough people sing along, which happened occasionally on Thursday, the choruses of the group's recent songs can sound like viable positions. The evening's biggest crowd-pleaser, however, was an older tune, "Start Wearing Purple,'' an ode to personal eccentricity that suited Hutz's flamboyant presence better than statements on immigration policy.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

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