MANHATTAN, NY—Upon graduating from high school in the Ukraine in the late 1980s, Yevheniy Aleksandrovich Nikolayev-Simonov became active in Kiev’s burgeoning perestroika rock scene and started his musical career with the band Uksusnik (Vinegar Dispenser). The 1986 nuclear plant meltdown in Chernobyl changed the course of his life, however. His parents qualified as political refugees in 1990, and the family, descendants of Gypsies called the Servo Roma, began a seven-year trek through Poland, Hungary, Austria and Italy. He, his mother, his father and his cousin arrived in Vermont in 1992 as political refugees through a resettlement program. While in Vermont, he formed The Fags, which played what he called “Eastern European ethno punk metal.” Later, he moved to New York, took on his mother’s German maiden name and became Eugene Hütz, and formed the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. The collective presently consists of vocalist/acoustic guitarist Hütz, violinist Sergey Ryabtsev from Russia, accordionist Pasha Newmer from Belarus, guitarist Michael Ward from the United States, vocalist Elizabeth Sun from China and Scotland, bassist Thomas “Tommy T” Gobena from Ethiopia, drummer Oliver Charles from the United States and percussionist Pedro Erazo from Ecuador. Gogol Bordello’s most recent album is 2013’s Pura Vida Conspiracy.
A minority of rock fans might identify Gypsy music as their favorite music. On the second of two consecutive nights headlining at Terminal 5, Gogol Bordello showed Hütz’s love of Gypsy music and the traditional music of the Hutsul people of the Carpathian Mountains, where his family had once lived. This was only the spine of the music, however. The cosmopolitan, multicultural, multilingual collective took instruments one might expect at a Russian wedding (accordion and violin as lead instruments) and performed a two-hour set of mad, raucous rock. The songs, sung in many languages, drew from numerous exotic world music rhythms and arrangements, and mixed them with punk and dub. The thread that held them all together was the exuberant feel-happy bounce of the rhythms.
Hütz proved to be extraordinarily charismatic and entertaining, simultaneously leading the minstrels and the audience from varied ethnic roots into a universal camaraderie. The bulk of the set was comprised of later songs from the Trans-Continental Hustle and Pura Vida Conspiracy albums, but fans also heard “Not A Crime,” “Mishto,” “Alcohol” and other older material. In all, Gogol Bordello performed a rousing set of 19 frenzied ethnic-inspired rock songs unlike anything ever before played on the Terminal 5 stage.
For more information on Gogol Bordello, go to gogolbordello.com.