Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gogol Bordello- Live At Axis Mundi

There are many anecdotes about The Minutemen encountering orthodox punks who hated their music and argued that they weren't really punk. With their funk, reggae, and even some Latin influences, The Mintutemen didn't sound like The Ramones or hardcore contemporaries like Black Flag. But, to the band, that was exactly why they were punk. Punk rock wasn't supposed to be about a sound that was set in stone, it was about doing your own thing and not having to fit in with the mainstream. It helps to remember that bands like Television and Talking Heads were part of the punk rock scene of '77 era New York City. New York, of course, is considered the world's city, and immigrants from all over come there to blend and cross-pollinate while still retaining their roots.

Gogol Bordello are a punk band through and through, and one could argue that their gypsy identity is a much truer brand of punk than what passes for it these days, since they freely mix their Eastern European aesthetic with dub reggae, certain kinds of world music, "classic" punk rock, and so on. The danger of fusionist bands is that they come off sounding and looking like a novelty. On a quick glance, Gogol Bordello give this impression. When you first see the band on the DVD half of the Live From Axis Mundi set, you may think to yourself "oh how precious...there's the middle aged looking Eastern European dudes on violin and accordion, black dude in a Jimi Hendrix shirt on bass, and traditional looking white dudes on drums and guitar." Later, there's a Latino guy and two costumed chicks who dance, sing, and play hand held drums and cymbals. On paper, it sounds like the kind of annoying, self consciously multi-ethnic-and-gender pamphlets that colleges put out.

However, the music fits together so naturally, and is so vivacious and catchy, that any preconceptions and misgivings quickly fall away. Nothing about the band feels manufactured or too clever for its own good. Rather, because of the band's gypsy identity, they appreciate multi-culturalism and the sympathetic underpinnings of seemingly disparate musical styles. Songs like 'Think Locally, Fuck Globally' and 'American Wedding' represent a kind of purist celebration of life and love of music that's largely absent in most popular Western music. To put it another way, there's nothing ironic or guarded about the band.

The CD half of Live At Axis Mundi lets you focus on the music of Gogol Bordello, though it'll likely only be of interest to established fans since it has the canned energy of studio "live" performances while lacking the (relative) finesse and control of the album versions. The DVD, meanwhile, leaves you with the feeling that on the night it was recorded, this concert was the most fun you could have had with your clothes on. It's too bad that they don't play 'American Wedding' during it, because their fusionist/gypsy music and colorful, impossibly energetic stage show made me think of the movie Rachel Getting Married. In particular the cultures-coming-together scenes that leave you wishing you were there to meet these interesting people and help celebrate the marriage of two people. If the main character is stuck on self destruction and her part in her young brother's death, than the other characters represent the celebration of life, love, and music. Interestingly, TV On The Radio's Tunde Adebimpe plays the groom in that film, and TV On The Radio are another New York band who blend together different cultural and music influences. But I digress. Watching the DVD, you wish you were at a Gogol Bordello show; as time goes on, you find it increasingly difficult not to move to the music and do that thing where you half smile and half almost-laugh.

Live From Axis Mundi is just a hell of a lot of fun no matter how you slice it. It's the sort of CD/DVD set that feels as much like a celebration of the band and its fans as it makes for a conversion tool for curious on-lookers. Highly recommended.

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