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Gogol Bordello and DeVotchKa get super-premium at First Ave

Categories: Concert Review
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Photo by Nick Vlcek
When you walk into First Avenue's Mainroom and find nowhere to go but upstairs and the headliner hasn't even taken the stage yet, you know you're in for not only a raucous night but a sweaty one. I'd presume that such a predicament occurs no matter where Gogol Bordello plays and is certainly the case when they hit the Twin Cities, which has happened each and every spring for at least five consecutive years now. This time having DeVotchKa, plus Jesse Malin & the Saint Mark's Social opening up the evening brought an even larger crowd than in years past. All you needed to see was the condensing sweat dripping from the light stands above the crowd to know it was the hottest place in town to be Sunday night.

Having missed the first band, we forded our way into the already humid mass of flesh congregated within the black walled hall, hoping to find somewhere reasonable to stand, but alas we watched the majority of DeVotchKa's set peering over tall shoulders on the second floor balcony. Their act was a subdued and pleasantly melancholy one, focusing more prominently on the intricate melodies and were packing many classically found instruments such as the violin, double bass, sousaphone (tuba) and of course the outstanding work of lead singer Nick Urata, who also performs with guitar, theromin, piano and trumpet readily at hand.  Their unique blend of Eastern-European, Bolero, Mariachi and American roots music, was at times soothing, then quickly juxtaposed with a more American punk vibe and a faster tempo all conjuring up a different time and place. All tied together and thrust primarily by the heart-ached bellows of Urata. They brought a delightful and most needed calm before storm that followed.

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Photos by Nick Vlcek
Gogol Bordello has almost become their own institution in this town, not only because we possess a strong Slavic, Ukrainian, and generally Gypsy like subculture throughout the Cities, but also because they have brought their traveling show to town for 5 straight years.  I've seen the last four, including my second show at First Avenue back in 2007. At that time it was kinda full and of course it was a good show, but it wasn't sold out nor was there the madness that has every year built to become larger, louder and more ferocious than the year before. The last two years were staged out in the parking lot of Cabooze and had this year's show not been so early in the Spring, I believe it would have been outside again, in what I feel to be a much better venue for the sort of craziness this band creates.

They started the night off with those well worn favorites off their Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike album of 2005 and the response was just as expected:  in came the big dudes with no hair or mohawks toward front and center stage, then the shoving begins, next the band gears up for the down beat of the chorus, all hell breaks loose as the entire front half of the crowd begins to simultaneously jump and pump their fists into the air, swelling and heaving in a mass of energy not often seen.  It continued this way for the majority of the night, but especially on those cult favorites such as "Not a Crime" and "Start Wearing Purple", yet songs they've played every time through town previously were conspicuously absent, such as "Dogs Were Barking", "Alcohol", and the tradition of dropping the mic into a fire bucket and playing with a drumstick at the end of the night. While it didn't feel like we the crowd were slighted in the least, as for once they focused half their set on the their newest and what sounds to be a pretty solid album Transcontinental Hustle, which isn't even out yet (April 28th).

In all it was what we've come to expect: a lot of sweating, the biggest mosh pit you'll probably see in town, a lot of great ethnic punk music, a small Hispanic man riding a bass drum in the crowd, crashing cymbals, spraying water bottles, accordion and violin solos, a lot of "HEY'S" and "ya-dah, ya-da-da-da-dah" sing-a-longs and much more. It will be my last show at First Avenue for years to come and my last show for City Pages as I'm leaving town for Portland in a month.  Just like that little guy on the drum, it's been a hell of a ride and I thank you for letting me share it with you.  Very super-premium indeed.

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