GOGOL BORDELLO were once the trophy band for Ukrainian nationals and bohemian NYC art freaks. Now they’re ready to crash into America’s punk-rock scene.

Story: Jason Pettigrew

One of the hard and fast rules of the Vans Warped Tour is that a band’s set time may not exceed 30 minutes-and for good reason: When you’ve got 80 bands playing on any given day, there’s no room for logistical anarchy. Nonetheless, the 30-minute rule is actually the most anarchic thing about Warped, because it forces bands to overcome physical obstacles-oppressive heat, sleep deprivation, grueling drives between gigs-every day while bringing their A-game to audiences that are often just as physically and mentally drained. And that, friends, is the sort of daily workout that separates the truly great bands from the careerist lightweights.

Despite the 100-plus-degree heat index, when Warped hit Cleveland this summer, Gogol Bordello delivered a charging, wildly rhythmic set filled with Eastern European Gypsy bravado. Frontman Eugene Hütz-slender, wiry and seemingly made of the stuff found inside Hi-Bounce balls-was as uncontrollable as an unmanned fire hose. He propelled, twisted and contorted his body all over the stage, as sweat visibly flew off him and his sizable moustache. In the span of 30 minutes, Hütz thrashed violently on a battered acoustic guitar; commandeered a ride on the shoulders of an unsuspecting security guard at the front of the stage; fired toy balls into the crowd using dancer Pam Racine’s ankles as a human slingshot; threw a metal bucket atop a mic stand and played a precise drum roll on it; and coaxed screams from his tour manager and his bandmates, all while delivering such lyrical bon mots as “Think locally, fuck globally,” and “America, I love you like somebody’s wife.” Two-thirds into the set, Hütz dropped the most punk comment this writer heard all day: “We are Gogol Bordello. What more do you fucking want?”

“I think we’re more like a porno mag that got thrown into a kindergarten,” Hütz says later, recalling the audience’s reaction during Gogol Bordello’s Warped tour of duty. “Everybody was super-psyched about us, but didn’t know what the hell to do with it. Of course, we want to get in front of new kids who normally wouldn’t stumble into our show. But we’re equally inappropriate wherever we go. Wherever you put us-whether it’s a fashion show or an art gallery, experimental-music night or world-music festival-there’s chaos and destruction. It might as well be Warped Tour.”

Considering Gogol Bordello’s lineup-which includes a fiery accordion player (Yuri Lemeshev), limber dancers who beat on parade drums, and a near-50-year-old violinist (Sergey Rjabtzev) who shreds harder than a boxed set of Teppei Teranishi instructional DVDs-it’s safe to assume no one’s going to get this band confused with Hawthorne Heights anytime soon. Hütz agrees, laughing with a weariness that conveys his you-don’t-know-the-half-of-it worldview. He recalls the night Gogol Bordello-Hütz, Rjabtzev, Lemeshev, guitarist Oren Kaplan, bassist Rea Mochiach, drummer Eliot Ferguson, and dancing instigators Racine and Elizabeth Sun-played the kickoff party for this year’s Warped campaign. There was this one kid in the crowd sizing up the band…

“He was the walking symbol of the Warped Tour audience,” Hütz begins, “wearing a black T-shirt of some band, and a painted mohawk. He comes up to us after the show and says, ‘Well, I love it, guys, but aren’t you afraid to be so different on the Warped Tour?’ And all I could think was: Have things really come to this point, where people have forgotten that being punk is all about being different? Some kid, who thinks he somehow belongs to that tribe, asks if I’m afraid to be different on a punk tour. That’s just sad, right?”

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