Gogol Bordello in Tel Aviv

Justin Jacobs on June 29, 2022
Gogol Bordello in Tel Aviv

There were a few key things on Eugene Hutz’s mind when his band of self-described Gypsy punks, Gogol Bordello, stormed the stage of Tel Aviv’s Barby Club on June 24. The first? The war in Ukraine. The second? Getting the crowd to lose their goddamned minds for more than two hours. And the third? Well, obviously, alcohol. And that trio led to one of the rowdiest shows to hit the Middle East since before the COVID-19 pandemic locked us all down more than two years ago.

“It’s been a long fucking time, huh?” crowed Hutz, his foot planted on a monitor, his arm on his hip, gazing at the crowd like a pirate about to set sail.

Hutz was born outside Kyiv, but formed Gogol Bordello in New York City in the late ‘90’s — from the beginning a ragtag mix of immigrant punk rockers bent on madcap live shows and anarchist sing-alongs. The immigrant aesthetic made them beloved in Israel — a country that defines itself with the same — and when Hutz invited Israeli saxophonist Ori Kaplan (former Gogol member and Balkan Beat Box founder) onstage, the Tel Aviv crowd exploded.

The band hasn’t released a new album in five years, but their latest cut, the lightning-speed “Teroborona,” dropped in 2022 and is named for Ukraine’s civil defense force.

“This one is for my friends defending Ukraine,” said Hutz before tearing through the new jam. “People like you and me who never held a gun. Artists and poets. Who are standing up against the biggest bitch of them all.”

Gogol gave the sold-out crowd exactly what they wanted: classics like “Start Wearing Purple,” “Wanderlust King” and “Not a Crime,” nearly unbelievable energy and a healthy dousing of wine — Hutz poured a number of bottles on the heads of fans crowded up front.

An angry, rebellious feeling was pervasive — dozens of fans waved Ukrainian flags; these protest punk songs felt very real and very necessary — even as people jumped and smiled and sang along until their voices were gone.

“We’re here to share unwavering support with the people of Ukraine,” said Hutz. “And if you’re wavering, go fuck yourself.”

After two nonstop hours and a deafening call for encore, Gogol returned onstage with a cover of classic English punk band Angelic Upstarts’ 1983 protest song, “Solidarity.” Hutz tweaked the song’s lyrics — originally about Polish workers unions — to the powerful: “We are with you in our hearts and in our minds… As the people of Ukraine try to take a stand, behind them every honest living man.”

The band closed out the show with an epic “Undestructable,” standing atop a bass drum being passed over the heads of the crowd. Everyone was soaked in sweat. Hutz was shirtless, draped in a Ukrainian flag. It was, truly, one of those live music moments when a room of hundreds of people feels unified, slack-jawed and utterly inspired.