UEA, Norwich December 10, 2023
by Paul Hammerton
There is already a good crowd as Puzzled Panther from New York take to the stage.
They are fronted by a female guitar duo who share the vocals, backed by an idiosyncratic drummer who pounds out the rhythm while standing hunched over the kit.
They get people dancing by the end of their set – what more can you ask for from an opening act?
Peat & Diesel are a three-piece from the Hebridean Isle of Lewis. They lack impact visually, with both accordionist Innes Scott and vocalist/guitarist Calum Boydie MacLeod remaining seated and rather isolated, a long way apart on the large stage.
However, they more than make up for this with their sound. The Saltire-adorned accordion drives the songs, and its pairing with a forceful electric guitar creates a wonderfully original sound.
It takes a confident support act to let the crowd take on the singing, but they clearly have friends in the audience.
An early highlight is a tribute to Shane MacGowan with their take on Dirty Old Town. The snarling vocals create a very different sound from the more wistful Pogues version, and it’s rounded off with a powerful guitar solo.
Of their own material, Western Isles is a real standout – “And that’s the way we do it in the Western Isles” epitomises a fine performance.
It would be good to see the band return with a headline slot (perhaps the Arts Centre?).
Gogol Bordello immediately launch into Sacred Darling – the first track on their first album from way back in 1999. For the next 1¾ hours we are treated to non-stop frenzied rhythm with virtually no time for chatter between songs.
While Ukrainian-born Eugene Hütz is the obvious frontman, all the band take turns in the spotlight.
Long-time member Pedro Erazo shows great versatility alternating between vocals, percussion and ukulele, and he whips up the crowd like a crazed master of ceremonies.
But it’s the contribution of violinist Sergey Ryabtsev and new recruit Erica Mancini on accordion, allied to the driving guitar and bass, that creates the signature Romani punk sound.
It’s hard to put into words the extra dimension that the live performance brings, in both the sound and the visual impact, and even the most leaden-footed gig-goers are soon dancing.
The two moments of the main set that stand out are a virtuoso violin solo from Ryabtsev and a powerful rendition of Fire On Ice Floe with help from the members of Puzzled Panther.
We are also treated to some samba and even a short interlude of 2-tone.
The encore brings us something different again, as Alcohol begins with an acoustic guitar solo from Hütz, perched precariously on a stack of speakers, before the rest of the band gradually join in.
The night ends with the passion of Solidarity, an Angelic Upstarts cover, but with the lyrics changed to highlight the conflict in Ukraine rather than the historic struggle of the Polish Solidarity movement.
Performed in front of the striking backdrop of a clenched fist in the Ukrainian colours of blue and yellow, it is a suitable finale to a memorable evening.