Album Review: Gogol Bordello- Live From Axis Mundi

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Gogol Bordello, as a live experience, is one of those crazy, uplifting, cataclysmic events (both on and off stage) that passes by in a fitful wind, knocking the audience on their feet so quickly they don’t even have the opportunity to realize the band has come and gone already. The roughly 65-100 minute shows are solely defined by the messy, sweaty dancing that ensues during each one of their performances, all together representing a unique and irreplaceable experience. And for this reason alone, the immediate success of their latest DVD/CD Live From Axis Mundi is not surprising, but rather impressive. Undoubtedly, Live from Axis Mundi falls short of the experience to be had at one of their actual concerts. However, it is still full of the same crazy, sporadic zest that made the world fall head over heels for these mystical gypsy punks and their intoxicating energy in the first place.

The dual disc collection features 11 tracks from their BBC sessions, four of their music videos, footage from their back-to-back show at the Fillmore in New York on July 20-21 in 2007, some interesting short films, and footage from one of their recording sessions. Packed to say the least, no? Well then, how’s about we get started!

Disc 1: CD

Packed with never-before-heard versions of some of their most popular songs from both Super Taranta and Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, Disc 1 showcases the band’s ability to create something “new” from the old, adding new instruments and drawing from an even larger palette of ethnic origins and musical genres. It begins with Eugene Hutz crying aloud, “An evolution is eternal, an evolution isn’t over, everyone shows and everybody knows”, at the beginning of the bass driven “Ultimate”, showcasing a new guitar riff and a stronger emphasis on the song’s bass guitar and drum rhythms. Then we have “Mishto”, now even more heavily laden with swirling strings and thumping bass, minus the song’s previous bass drum kick and plus an all-new guitar solo! Most impressive is the even slower version of “Alcohol”, now carrying an interesting steel drum rhythm and a swaying accordion which could lull any baby to sleep.

Later on, we are thrown a few new tracks, including the thumping shout of “You Gave Up” equipped with a hypnotizing two-note bass riff, the “hoo-ha” chant from Hutz and a few rocking guitar solos drenched in bluesy-metal. Next up are a few album cuts including “Stivali E Colbacco” (from Super Taranta), a personal favorite, and “Troubled Friends” (from Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike). And taking on a country feel with the well-placed addition of a banjo alongside the already prominent violin, “Stivali E Colbacco” becomes a fast-paced, roaring melody that’s too short for its own good.

Eventually the CD dies down with a few demos, one of which is the more “mellow” version of “60 Revolutions” that sounds something like a de-bunked auto-piloted version of the previously uncontrollable fast-paced number, minus all of its essentials including guitar parts and Hutz’s unique fire bucket playing. Instead, the song features more bass guitar, less percussion, a new Spanish rap solo from Pedro Erazo, and some obnoxious flutes. Then we’re thrown an outstanding version of “Immigrant Punk” that’s full of Mexican influenced rhythms and a deep, echoing bass. Some might even say Gogol Bordello have made something better than the original here! Between the tom toms, pounding bass, and insistent rhythmic percussion in the background, it’s impossible not to sway those hips along with this melody as it slowly transitions into an instrumental version, carrying the same Mexican vibe along with it. All in all, Disc 1 is an outstanding achievement that’ll have fans bobbing away to familiar songs done up in a new and unique way that’s just as good, if not better than before. Of course, favorite versions will always be impossible to ignore, but one’s final verdict will be quite difficult to determine after giving this CD a thorough listen. Truly, a rip-roaring success!

Disc 2: DVD

Compared to the relatively compact 1st disc, Disc 2 barrages its viewers with an overwhelming amount of juicy content. This includes all of the band’s music videos to date, which if you haven’t seen yet, you should be utterly ashamed of yourself. Additionally, the disc includes “Xtra Tracks” and “Bonus Chronicles”, which are basically fun little shorts of the band either in the studio or on stage. Of the featured shorts, “Sacred Darling” and “Musika Agressia” are particularly exciting to watch because they showcase footage from some of the band’s earliest performances. When watching these, it’s really interesting to compare them against some of their more recent shows to notice the band’s evolution from a small stage show act into a raucous punk rock fiesta that’s less about the gimmicks and more about the music. But let’s move on to the best part, shall we? The live recording from their 2007 performance in New York City!

In honor of their home town, Gogol Bordello put on a 2-day performance in remembrance of the city that brought them all together. As the band takes to the stage and is given a formal introduction Hutz exclaims, “There’s really nothing like playing in home town when it’s New York City”. And thus begins one of Gogol Bordello’s wildest shows.

From various stage antics to kissing girls in the audience, Hutz dominates the stage with his usual goofy manner, but this time he also scales the wall, dances on top of speakers, leaps into the crowd, and sings on the balcony amongst his fans. And at one point he even jumps onto one of the bouncer’s shoulders and goes along in a line, allowing members of the audience to sing into the mic. The best representation of this is during “Start Wearing Purple”, in which he grabs a girl in the crowd and proceeds to sing with her and give her friendly kisses. Better yet, the song features an interesting interlude by Pedro Erazo in Spanish.

Things get even crazier towards the end when percussionist Pamela Racine throws her bass drum out into the crowd and then leaps onto it, only to continue playing with the band on top of the crowd during “Baro Foro”. And of course they had to play the rare “Punk Rock Parranda”, which they almost never play live because it reminds them of the old times when they used to play it in NYC as a smaller unknown band. Overall, this DVD is loads of fun. It’s got all of their favorite hits, butt cheeks, crazy stage antics, even crazier added solos/jamming and everything else and more that you could ever imagine would be at a Gogol Bordello show. And if you haven’t seen them live before, this is a wonderful performance to jump in on, but nothing beats being in the heat of the moment yourself. Seriously, this DVD is not to be missed, so get out there and enlighten yourselves!

Live From Axis Mundi