Pop quiz, hot shot: What do you do when you arrive at the Camden Roundhouse for an evening of musical entertainment courtesy of New York gypsy punks Gogol Bordello and Los Angeles’ punk-rock heroes Mariachi El Bronx, with the express intention of capturing said spectacle through the fine art of photography, only to have your camera confiscated by the over-zealous security team? And then, just when you think, well, that sucks, but I’ll make do with my phone—a phone you selected primarily for its superb photo-taking capabilities—only to take it out of your pocket and discover that the screen has locked, rendering it utterly unusable. I mean, seriously. Are you shitting me? And so I ask you once again. What do you do?
Well, quite simply, you do your best to forget about such frustrations, sit back, and—gasp!—just enjoy the show. And what a show it turns out to be. First on the bill is the appallingly-named Hoffmaestro—a Swedish ska collective who are exactly the type of band you’d expect to be opening for Gogol Bordello. Blending elements of punk, folk, reggae and hip-hop, they do a fine job of warming up the early crowd, and frontman Jens Malmlöf even succeeds in getting the audience to mirror his movements as he runs from one end of the stage to other.
Dressed in their customary matching black outfits, Mariachi El Bronx take the stage to a rapturous reception and launch straight into ‘Right Between the Eyes’ from this year’s third self-titled offering. Led by the loquacious Matt Caughthran, whose warm Californian drawl and witty banter between songs bolsters a succinct ten-track set, the band’s take on Mexico’s native sound is joyous and soul-stirring throughout, with highlights such as ’48 Roses’ (“with forty-eight lovers, and forty-eight roses, I need a confessional that never closes”) and recent single ‘Wildfire’, which Caughthran dedicates to all the arsonists in the building.
By the time Gogol Bordello appear, in all their multi-ethnic, Technicolor glory, the floor of the Roundhouse is so densely packed you can’t help but wonder where on earth all of these fans have come from. Hardly a household name, Eugene Hütz and co. have nevertheless managed to sell out this five thousand-capacity venue, and seconds into their set it’s not hard to see why. In a pair of boots so long and pointy they nearly have my eyes out from a hundred paces, Hütz—Gogol Bordello’s magnificently moustachioed frontman—leads his gang through a storming set of unrelentingly hi-energy, rabble-rousing anthems, striking a balance between chaos and control in the delivery of material that spans their entire fifteen-year career. Older tracks are performed with a new vigour, sitting comfortably alongside cuts from last year’s ‘Pura Vida Conspiracy’ album, and such is the captivating quality of the antics onstage that the majority of the audience barely registers the fact that one enthused fan has removed his prosthetic leg, waving it madly in appreciation from somewhere deep in the mosh-pit. Brilliant.
And for my part… well, it’s testament to the uplifting power of tonight’s music that, having started the evening mightily pissed off, I reluctantly leave the Roundhouse—albeit a few minutes before the end—in such high spirits that I almost forget to collect my camera.
Maybe next time I’ll leave it behind altogether.