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Rubblebucket blows your face

Jamaica Plain’s own Rubblebucket brought its spirited live act and hip grooves to the Pearl Street Clubroom last Thursday night, and gave the audience a memorable performance that had spectators young and old dancing.

Opening act Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (GPGDS), a reggae-dub band from Rochester, NY, gave a relatively sparse crowd a solid, tight performance. Although the group did an admirable job of capturing a nice reggae feel, many of their songs went on for far too long with no real variety to keep things interesting. The set, which lasted for over an hour, probably could have been compressed to thirty or forty minutes.

Nonetheless, GPGDS certainly had a small core of loyal hipster fans who swayed back and forth for the entire set. Some of them appeared to be a tad inebriated, and a few were escorted by security personnel for the use of a certain recreational drug. The band played feel-good songs such as “In These Times” and “Easy Way Out” that were musically redundant but had a pleasant, relaxing effect on the crowd. The four band members were all skilled musicians; the keyboardist in particular was impressive and was able to spice things up with some licks and solos.

As the opening set neared its conclusion, the crowd began to fill out in eager anticipation of one of the best locally-based live acts around. Rubblebucket certainly did not disappoint, as the octet of highly skilled musicians unleashed a musical onslaught of interesting grooves, harmonies and melodies.  Rubblebucket, which includes a three piece horn section and a robust rhythm section including two percussionists, is as entertaining visually as it is musically, as the members are constantly dancing, even employing some choreographed moves.

The group opened with material from their new self-titled release, including the tracks “Bad Mr. Kurtz” and “Bikes”. Lead singer Kalmia Traver, who sings and plays saxophone with equal skill, laments over a troubled relationship in the first number, over eerily catchy horn parts that get progressively louder as the song reaches conclusion. “Bikes”, a new single, features Traver singing along to the horn licks of Alex Toth on trumpet and Adam Dotson on trombone. Dotson unleashes a mean solo on this number, just one of many taken by the band members throughout the set.

One aspect that distinguishes this band from others is their meshing of genres. Craig Myers, who plays auxiliary percussion as well as the n’goni, an African harp-like instrument, traveled to Africa to study music. It is easy to hear some Afro-Cuban grooves, some jazz elements (especially with the improvisation) and some straight-ahead hard rock feeling in his performance.

Highlighting the set was the performance of “November,” off the group’s new album. Dotson and Toth showed off their versatility on this number, mimicking bird sounds with whistling and singing. Dotson once again took a solo, while guitarist John Hersey was most impressive with his intricate and repeating guitar line. “Kuma” was also a crowd favorite, with Meyer showing some serious skill on the n’goni. Traver was at her best vocally on this song, backed by some nice, bouncy melodies and bright horn parts.

During “Rivers”, a Latin sounding number off of their debut album “Rose’s Dream”, Dotson, Toth, and Traver all took to the crowd, making their way through the audience and playing simultaneously. This certainly excited everyone, although some may have been a little wary of Dotson’s slide trombone.

Between songs, Toth announced that they had been awarded Best Live Act of the Year at the Boston Music Awards the previous night. The award was certainly justified, as their skill as musicians was only exceeded by their spirit and joy for performing. Rubblebucket’s concert  certainly showed them to be an act to keep a keen eye on in the future.

Dave Mansfield can be reached at dmansfie@student.umass.edu.

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