SONIC REDUCER Sweet home Europa be it central, eastern, or so southerly that you're smack in the Amazon, shooting the rapids like Aguirre and grabbing inspiration from the jaguar guts of the jungle. Call the recent Balkan music invasion on virginal indie hearts and minds the stealth revenge of new, weird Old World sounds on arrogant Amerindie rockism just listen to the brainy, brassy blast of Beirut or the fiddle-borne shakedowns of A Hawk and a Hacksaw or the gypsy, or Romany, mess-arounds of Brass Menazeri I dare you not to jig. Yet the rip-roaring, marrow-slurping, living end of all fiddlin'-round roma punks are the longtime "Think Locally, Fuck Globally" champeens Gogol Bordello.
Larger-than-life Gogol vocalist Eugene Hütz adores the fact that Romany sounds are finding new audiences "It clicked for me one day," he says from New Orleans, "that gypsy music is going through exactly the revolution that reggae went through, from being a regional phenomenon to being a much larger music section in the store much bigger visibility because if you're not visible, you're fucked." But trust the man to set me straight on sloppy assumptions regarding that same music, especially regarding Gogol Bordello's next album, which was influenced by Hütz's move this year to Rio de Janeiro. Will the recording about which, Hütz promises, "people are going to shit in their pants when they hear it, because we're already shitting in our pants" give off a heady, flowery whiff of tropicália, and sound like the Pogues and Os Mutantes in steel-cage match?
"Forget that!" he retorts. "It's like being in Spain and saying there's only flamenco, or there's nothing in Eastern Europe except polka. It's what every tourist knows." Hütz was initially lured to Brazil by a lady, but he says, "the next thing I knew there was a huge gypsy community to discover. Next thing I knew I was traveling through Brazil with Manu Chao and seeing the other side of it, and the next thing I knew I was calling my mom to send all my shit over.
"I love New York City and I always will," Hütz continues. "It gave me everything, gave me understanding and initial recognition. But I feel like the road is still calling me. It ain't no time to settle."
The allure of unexplored vistas could go a little way in explaining the appeal of Gogol and its brethren to New Worlders like ourselves. What fan girl or boy isn't tempted to have their blasé, boring butt kicked by the very unironic, passionate Gogol Bordello not for nothing is the band's 2002 album titled Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony (Rubric) which takes nothing for granted, and while it's at it, takes no prisoners.
PLASTIC FANTASTIC Czech Republic underground OGs Plastic People of the Universe, who perform with promising Budapest band Little Cow this week in San Francisco at Slim's, are all too familiar with incarceration. The group will also make a Q&A stop at the American Conservatory Theatre production of Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, a semi-bon mot to the band who were forbidden to perform, whose fans were beaten, and members were eventually imprisoned by the Czech government in the '70s for their dark, "antisocial," Velvet Underground- and Frank Zappainspired art-rock psychedelia.
Guitarist Joe Karafiát tells me by cellie, as the many in the seven-piece snoozed their way to Burlington, Vt., that Plastic People of the Universe didn't set out to be activists or the initial inspiration for the human rights petition Charter 77 (which landed Václav Havel in jail) much like they didn't set out to be such diehard Zappa or Velvets heads.