Cake, Tegan AND Sara, Gogol Bordello at Unlimited Sunshine tour

at the Wiltern, Jan. 31

Strolling in late is simply not kosher in certain situations. Grandma’s funeral, the bar exam and the Unlimited Sunshine tour are among them.

Fueled by traffic-panic and spilling half my vodka & soda, I entered the theater mid-set to the visceral shock of Gogol Bordello’s drum thunder, the amplified trill of Old World fiddle and the immediate realization that I totally suck. Had I fully grasped that a troupe of lunatic gypsies would be writhing half-naked to their own pounding insanity, I would have slept on the Wiltern’s stoop the night before. But here was Gogol’s Eugene Hutz, deftly piloting the speeding chaos of this gypsy/punk/cabaret from behind the yoke of a magnificent handlebar mustache. The Ukranian-born Hutz spun about — shirtless, breathless and slick with sweat, tripping over his own electrical cords and backed by crashing cymbals, accordion chatter and two chicks with drums harnessed to their midsections.The ruckus was electrifyingly inescapable, inciting dance agitations rarely witnessed in cripplingly self-conscious Los Angeles crowds. At one point a couple next to me turned to one another, the woman shouting over the racket, “They’re good!” To which her companion replied: “Yeah! I think they’re, like, foreign!”

As Gogol Bordello ended their set and the throng jeered in asthmatic protest, it was clear that Tegan and Sara had an imposing hollow to fill. They made an exemplary stab at it, with the sisters trading off vocal duties, as well as swapping out guitars between nearly every song. While one twin would pick at her electric, the other would strum acoustic-style, in a balance that was utterly complementary, rather than redundant. Their pleading, humble lyrics and raw pop catchiness have given them several months’ residency in my stereo, and live, they etched a shameless, un-ironic anthem out of the words, “I love the rock & roll.”

Although headlining, Cake remained a somewhat avuncular presence in this lineup. A portion of the audience had unapologetically bailed after the first two acts, leaving loyalists to whoop their appreciation at the distinctively Cakey trumpet blasts and wooden shudders of vibraslap. Singer John McCrea closed the show with a rant about the Bush administration, leaving the crowd with the clean aftertaste of politics responsibly acknowledged. On my way out, I encountered Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz in the lobby. Unable to resist a glimpse of a modern-day gypsy caravan, a handful of us spent an hour or two talking about Fugazi, listening to CDs and drinking lukewarm beers on their cluttered tour bus. Sucking Jägermeister through his teeth from a plastic cup, Hutz agreed with affable bombast that he and his band of gypsies had, indeed, stolen the show.

—Alie Ward

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