Gogol Bordello and Bombino electrify Pabst Theater
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Milwaukee is a city rich in ethnic history. It’s a melting pot of ideas and cultures that have intermingled and created their own vibrant personality. In the summer, there are plenty of reminders of this in the city’s many ethnic festivals, where there’s an importance placed on preserving and cherishing the past while pushing forward into new territory. So when gyspy punks Gogol Bordello and opener Bombino rolled into town Saturday to treat the Pabst Theater to their own culture-meshing sounds, it felt like a perfect pairing. One could describe both performances as a celebration or a party, though those words seem bland when you consider the sibling-like bond between performers and crowd. People were dancing, shouting, and eating up the energy on stage. Few shows have this energy and camaraderie.
Opener Bombino is a perfect example of seemingly contrasting cultures coming together into something exciting. Born in Niger, Omara “Bombino” Moctar grew up as a member of the Tuareg people, living a nomadic life in the western expanses of the Sahara Desert. But once he learned of the guitar’s potential—and started watching old Jimi Hendrix footage—his life took an unexpected turn, eventually winning over people like The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach with his electrifying live shows. Saturday night, he and his band—wearing traditional shawls and turbans—wowed the crowd with their fuzzy and dynamic desert blues-rock.
Since 1999, headliner Gogol Bordello has established a tradition of bowling over people with its gypsy punk, which meshes Eastern European string/accordion-based music with American punk rock. At Saturday’s show, there was a large banner with the word “revolution” printed backwards, and the word “love” in bright red. It was fitting, as many of the band’s songs have romantic associations with gypsy music, and a bit of revolution that fits in with punk. Featuring members from around the world, Gogol Bordello is a musical juggernaut that can tightrope styles with ease.
Utilizing a flurry of accordions, violins, guitars, and other instruments, the band let loose with a set featuring old favorites, songs from the new album Pura Vida Conspiracy, and a number of lesser known gems. Throughout it all, lead singer Eugene Hütz was in a constant state of motion, finding new ways to up the ante of excitement. It didn’t take long for Hütz to shed his shirt, and to start bouncing around the stage with the rest of his bandmates. His gruff vocals were full of passion and bite. Songs like “My Companjera,” “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher),” and “To Rise Above” found the band and crowd in a state of near ecstasy.
That feeling extended into the encore, and to the final note and bow. (The encore featured “Alcohol,” a song title not lost on many from the Brew City.) The show came to a fitting end when Gogol Bordello brought Bombino and his group back for a final emphatic bow. It was the ultimate sign of respect, and a reminder of the bands’ shared passion in bringing cultures, however different or far apart, together.