Live From Axis Mundi
I will open this review of Gogol Bordello’s first formal live release, Live From Axis Mundi, with quick public service announcement. Do not, I repeat, do not, under any circumstances, purchase this album digitally. Those purchasing Live From Axis Mundi with the intent of experiencing Gogol Bordello’s unmatched live energy will be sorely disappointed. The physical CD (and digital portion) only contains a selection of B-sides, demos, and live BBC studio recordings. The actual performance can only be found on a DVD companion disc that is not available through digital retailers like iTunes. And believe me, if you like Gogol Bordello, then you’re going to want every minute of that DVD.
The DVD, featuring a fourteen-track set, is easily the package’s highlight. Performed in 2007 in New York City’s Irving Plaza, Gogol Bordello take to the stage and prove why even mainstream media outlets like Entertainment Weekly have since proclaimed them “the world’s most perfect festival band.”
The set list opens with “Ultimate,” with ever-charismatic front man and lead vocalist Eugene Hütz wasting no time getting started. Wide eyed, shirtless, and strumming at his acoustic guitar, his distinct Ukrainian accent and unapologetically fractured grammar instantly win over the audience as they burst out into screams and wild applause. Before long, the raggedy haired and aged Russian violinist Sergey Ryabtsev strikes his bow viciously across his strings with a youthful vigor and fiery passion. Yuri Lemeshev’s accordion chimes in, and the whole troupe, including eccentric gypsy clad dancers and a myriad of percussion instruments, bursts into song and dance. Just watching them come alive on stage is energizing even from the typically calm and controlled setting of my suburban living room.
Having been recorded two years ago, the set list mainly focuses on tracks from 2005’s Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, but also includes the occasional track from 2007’s Super Taranta. Clearly the band knows their strengths, and has chosen only the most energizing and danceable tunes. In addition to “Ultimate,” others include “Start Wearing Purple,” “Not A Crime,” and “Wonderlust King.” There are even a few pre-Side One Dummy tracks, including “Baro Foro” – a great nine minute gem from 2002’s Multi Kontra Vs Irony serving as a crack encore and set conclusion. As far as live performances go,Gogol Bordello couldn’t have picked a finer set to represent their live experience.
The DVD also comes packed with extras. Cumulatively these sections contain another five tracks from an unspecified live show, all four Gogol Bordello music videos, some random jam segments, and instances of Eugene and the gang goofing around on and off of stage. They’re not particularly interesting, but their presence rounds the package off nicely.
As mentioned before, the CD feels almost like an afterthought, and plays like a B-sides and rarities compilation. The first six tracks consist of 2008’s BBC sessions, primarily made up of Super Taranta era material. They’re decent enough recordings, although after watching the live DVD they feel rather inhibited, suggesting that a live studio setting might not be Gogol Bordello’s best recording venue. The additional tracks include two unreleased tracks from Super Taranta and Gypsy Punks, and demos of “60 Revolutions” and “Immigrant Punk.” Any completist will value them, but as the sole CD offering, they feel rather limited.
In summary, Live From Axis Mundi is a mixed bag featuring a killer live performance. Considering that I don’t often sit down and watch concert DVDs, it would have been nice to have the Irving Plaza set on CD. Instead we get an unremarkable but conveniently packaged set of rarities. Live From Axis Mundi is an easy recommendation for fans, but like I said before, steer clear of the digital release to avoid disappointment.