Gogol Bordello explodes with folk punk energy in Santa Ana, CA

This marks the second time I have seen Gogol Bordello live, and — oh my god — I cannot wait to see them again! Gogol Bordello’s concert at The Observatory in Santa Ana on May 20th, 2024, was nothing short of an electrifying spectacle. Known for their high-octane performances and genre-defying sound, the band delivered an unforgettable evening for all. With a setlist that spanned their eclectic discography, including several notable covers, Gogol Bordello proved once again why they are one of the most dynamic and best damned live acts in the music world today! 

As the lights dropped and the crowd’s anticipation reached a fever pitch, the band took the stage with the explosive “Sacred Darling.”

The opening track set the tone for the night, with Eugene Hütz’s charismatic presence commanding the audience’s attention from the first strum of his guitar. The raw energy of the performance was palpable; the second the music started, the entire front members of the band rushed the stage and charged onto the elevated ledge over the photo pit. There I was, trying to take some great pics while, at the same time, being towered over by Hütz and dodging a swinging fiddle and accordion! From that moment on, it was a nonstop, all-out, folk punk explosion of energy, smiles, and biting banter from Hütz. 

Next up came “I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again”, a nostalgic anthem that had the audience singing along to every word and bouncing. Hütz’s raspy vocals, combined with the band’s tight play, created a powerful shared experience. “Not a Crime” followed, with its defiant lyrics and frenetic pace sparking a wave of dancing and fist-pumping throughout the venue. Damn! Three songs already? For those not in the know, those of us lucky enough to shoot concerts typically only get three songs in the pit before we get escorted out to watch the show from the crowd. Now, typically this is not a big deal for me, but I would have loved to spend the entire show that close. It was truly an incredible experience being that close to that much explosive energy… I had a giant grin on my face from the time they hit the stage until the moment the security escorted me out. 

Before the next tune dropped, Hütz began his typical sarcastic banter with the crowd, exclaiming that “Southern California is on our shit list — and that’s why we come here all the time!”

“Immigrant Punk” was next a standout moment of the night, with its rebellious spirit embedded with messages of both unity and resistance; it felt especially poignant in today’s political climate and the audience responded with an outpouring of support and enthusiasm. The momentum continued with “Wanderlust King”, a track that perfectly encapsulates Gogol Bordello‘s gypsy punk ethos. Hütz’s storytelling prowess shone through as he took the audience on a journey, his impassioned delivery making every lyric hit home. The band, never taking a rest, danced their way around the stage, engaging the audience with every beat.

“My Companjera” brought a touch of heart to the set: an uplifting tune that created a brief, but beautiful respite from the evening’s more intense moments. The serene interlude was short-lived, however, as the band launched into “Suddenly…” with renewed vigor. The track’s rapid tempo had the crowd bouncing once again, the atmosphere electric with excitement.

The addition of Puzzled Panther for “Fire on Ice Floe” and “From Boyarka To Boyaka” added a unique twist to the performance.

Their collaboration brought a fresh dynamic to the stage, with the guest artist’s distinctive style blending seamlessly with Gogol Bordello’s sound. The interplay between Hütz and Puzzled Panther was a highlight — their chemistry evident in every moment.

The inclusion of a snippet of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” in “Focus Coin” was an awesome freaking surprise, paying homage to one of punk rock’s most influential bands. The nod to Fugazi was met with cheers from the crowd, many who roared loudly before singing along as you are supposed to when that song drops.

“Trans-Continental Hustle” and “Immigraniada” kept the energy levels high; the former’s anthemic chorus and the latter’s driving beat fueling the audience. The dedication of “Mishto!” to Steve Albini, featuring a snippet of Mano Negra‘s “Mala Vida”, was another memorable moment, showcasing the band’s deep respect for their musical influences and peers.

Hütz, a true punker, chastised some in the crowd for not knowing who Albini was.

And if you do not know who Albini was, please, as soon as you are done reading this review, go look him up and get a sense of just how massively important the brilliant producer and engineer was to the punk and alternative world. He produced some of the biggest bands and biggest albums including Nirvana, Flogging Molly, and of course, Gogol Bordello. The world unexpectedly lost this icon on May 7th of this year, just 13 days before this show. RIP Steve! The music world is a sadder place without you.

As the opening chords of “Start Wearing Purple” rang out, the crowd erupted in excitement, bouncing, bouncing, and singing along. One of Gogol Bordello’s most iconic songs, it was the perfect climax to the main set. The entire venue was moving in unison, united by the joy of the music. “Pala Tute”, featuring a snippet of The Specials‘ “Gangsters”, closed out the main set with a bang, with its energetic rhythm and catchy melody leaving the audience eager for more. This was such a cool moment!

The encore was a masterclass in punk rock history, with the band delivering raucous covers of the Sex Pistols’ “Bodies” that had the crowd screaming out the lyrics… and that is not hyperbole. Next up was a solo acoustic version of the iconic NY hardcore band Agnostic Front’s “Victim in Pain”. Hütz turned this power song into an insanely good cover with just him, his acoustic guitar, and a handful of those in the know singing along.

He and the band did justice to these punk classics, alright.

The acoustic rendition of “Alcohol” provided a poignant moment of reflection, Hütz’s raw vocal performance highlighting the song’s introspective lyrics. The stripped-down arrangement allowed the audience to fully appreciate the depth and emotion behind the song, creating a powerful contrast to the night’s more raucous numbers.

The final song of the night, a cover of Angelic Upstart’s “Solidarity”, was a fitting conclusion to the evening. The band’s spirited performance and the song’s rallying cry for unity and resistance left a lasting impression, encapsulating the ethos of Gogol Bordello and the spirit of the night.

Throughout the show, Gogol Bordello demonstrated their unmatched ability to blend diverse musical influences into an unbelievable live experience. Each member of the band brought their own unique talents to the stage. The synergy between the musicians was evident in every song, their collective energy and passion created an atmosphere of pure exhilaration and energy.

As the crowd spilled out into the cool OC night, there was an evident sense of elation and satisfaction.

I overheard several saying things like, “that was one of the best live shows I have ever seen!” And you know what, I might agree with that. Gogol Bordello had delivered a performance that was not only musically exceptional, but also emotionally resonant and deeply engaging. Fans old and new left the venue with smiles on their faces.

In a world where live music can often feel so formulaic and predictable, Gogol Bordello stands out as a beacon of energy, creativity, and authenticity. Their concert at The Observatory was a testament to their enduring appeal and their ability to connect with audiences and put on a show with insane, nonstop energy. Go catch them on their current US tour!

Photography by Shane Pase

Share this article


Become a Patron

Tour dates for gogol bordello

Get music updates in your inbox

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments