Photographs by Lee-Ann Richer.
It’s a shame the Sound Academy wasn’t jammed to the rafters when seven-piece Mariachi El Bronx took to the stage, costumed in the traditional Mariachi strip and boasting a horn section. Little did I know at the time, this was the alter ego of The Bronx, that punk band that burst onto the scene in the early 2000’s after Gilby Clarke produced their first album. I remember them from all the way back then, and now here they were doing mariachi music; because, why not?
Vocalist Matt Caughthran immediately roused the crowd – many of whom sported Mariachi El Bronx t-shirts – and then captivated the non-believers with his vocal range and his marionette-inspired dance moves. They killed – I was with my dad, and he turned to me and said, “This is probably the best band we’ve seen together.”
Well, and then Flogging Molly hit the stage.
Dave King – Flogging Molly’s charismatic frontman – came out looking like final-episode era Walter White, but just like Walter White, it would have taken a gigantic machine gun mounted in the trunk of a beat up old car to stop him from tearing the Sound Academy apart. They blew the doors off that venue. The place was literally bouncing up and down. Fist-pumping, chanting, beer-throwing, crowd-surfing; it was all going down during Flogging Molly’s set. It was a sweat-fest and it was perfect. Classic Flogging Molly tunes ‘Rebels of the Sacred Heart,’ ‘If I Ever Leave This World Alive,’ and ‘Saints and Sinners,’ turned into gigantic sing-alongs. Skinheads and punkers and nerds and girls too short to see the stage stood shoulder to shoulder and chanted and jumped and fist-pumped as one. It was a huge party and Dave and the band orchestrated it all from the stage. He looks like he could go on doing it forever, too. So I hope he does. I hope they all do.
Now, okay. I’ve seen a lot of bands, right? I’ve been to a ton of shows. But never before, never in my life, have I had so much fun during a concert as I did during Gogol Bordello.
First of all, there are a hell of a lot of them and they’re all otherworldly, like pirates or something; like they’d arrived at the Sound Academy off the Toronto docks, where their ship – which is definitely adorned with black sails and white skulls and cross bones – is waiting to take them back across the seven seas.
Frontman Eugene Hutz is like this mad gypsy bandit king, and he travels around the world rocking and rolling with this wild bunch from every corner of the earth, and together they’re Gogol Bordello, the greatest band I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
The show was an onslaught. Non-stop. The place bumped. There’s no other word for it. It was amazing, it was inspirational, it was off-the-cuff, relentless rock and roll. It was like the best party you could ever go to, and everyone was invited; everyone was a VIP. Pedro Erazo made sure every member of the audience pumped their fists into the air and sang along; he caught me out a couple of times and made sure I had my fist in the air. They definitely know how to grab the audience – I like that a lot. Too often you see bands just play their set and get off. Gogol Bordello is almost like an interactive experience. It’s almost like the show is a two-way thing; the audience is half the experience. I mean, this is Toronto. We know we can be a tough crowd. Sometimes we stand around with our arms crossed and just bob our heads. Well, you’re not going to get away with that at Gogol Bordello. You’re going to get into a melee at Gogol Bordello. You’re going to sweat through your clothes, and you’re going to be a part of something. You’re going to dance, and jump up and down, and sing along, and be a member of their gypsy army. Eugene Hutz will pour wine all over you, and Pedro Erazo and Elizabeth Sun will pump you up, and Sergey will show you how to rock and roll with a fiddle. And meanwhile that drum and bass and the roar of an electric guitar provide that perfect, churning, living backdrop to all the anarchy happening at the front of the stage.
I mean, I’m almost at a total loss about it. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I would travel to see this band. I already asked a friend if they’d go to New Jersey this weekend to catch Gogol Bordello over there.
Gogol Bordello redefined everything I thought I knew about live music. Words almost don’t do it any justice. You had to be there. Be there next time.
So, while you’re checking their tour dates to see when they’re around next, grab their most recent release, Pura Vida Conspiracy. It rocks.
Thanks to Live Nation Ontario for media access.