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May 10, 2017

Rubblebucket brings earthy grooves to Iron Horse

Saturday night, around 10 p.m., a few bass notes and snare hits could be heard outside the Iron Horse as the musicians inside rehearsed for their upcoming show, leaving the doors closed and teasing the eardrums of a crowded line that went halfway down the block. As soon as the doors were unlocked people rushed in to get a spot close to the stage in anticipation of the upcoming jam session.

But why were all these people there? Who could possibly bring so many people to the Iron Horse? It would have to be someone big, some phenomenal band. But who was it? The answer: Rubblebucket.

The event kicked off with opening band Tidwell’s Treasure, a funk group from East Longmeadow. The band consists of members Emily Duff on tenor saxophone, Sean McMahon on vocals and guitar, Tim Jang on drums, and J. Witbeck on bass. With grooving songs such as “MuFu” (short for Mother Funker) and “Minton the Explorer,” the band got the giant crowd moving and dancing almost as soon as they hit the stage.

The band demonstrated immense skill with licks that synced together perfectly and the music never got old or boring, as the group was constantly switching up the style. Tidwell’s Treasure last song, “Al Needs a Haircut,” where McMahon asked for “a little audience participation,” even managed to get the crowd chanting “Haircut!” over and over again as the song went on.

But what really set the band apart from most opening bands was the funk tuba. You read that correctly: funk tuba. On the second to last song Witbeck quietly put down his bass and then pulled out a tuba, and proved that tuba has a solid place in the funk genre.

Tidwell’s Treasure will be playing this Sunday, Feb. 21st, at the Happy Valley Showdown Finals event, located at The Elevens in Northampton.

The opening band was rocking, the crowd was grooving, and the main event hadn’t even started yet. Witbeck described playing for such a huge crowd as “staying at ease in a high and compact energy setting.” They were the perfect opening band for Rubblebucket.

Then the lights went up, there was a brief rearranging of the people and instruments on stage, and the lights dimmed for Rubblebucket as they performed for their biggest Northampton crowd yet.

Within moments all attention was focused on the band as the bodies of both young and old swayed, heads bobbed and foots tapped. There was hardly a person there who wasn’t moving in some way to the beat, the dance music that brings everyone together. In fact the band itself was alive with motion, grooving to the sounds and getting so into it that it was hard to tell whether the crowd was dancing more than the band.

The music that came from the stage was out of this world. The band is both trip-rock and psychedelic Afrobeat, yet that is only the tip of the iceberg. There is no one cultural influence on the band but rather a worldwide influence.

The influences on the band are western yet tribal, there is a hint of some very Middle Eastern rhythms yet this is offset by the distinctly Asian influence, and there are also definite Latin grooves as well. The sound live can only be described as a musical Aurora Borealis as the band constantly shifts its style yet maintains an earthy feel. Kalmia Traver, the lead vocalist and saxist for the band, described the sound as being a result of “globalization for music that has opened so many doors.”

The band played quite a few songs from their newest album, “Rubblebucket,” including “Bikes,” which had a remarkable piece of skat from Traver that set the crowd cheering.

“November,” another song from “Rubblebucket,” was a crowd favorite with an amazing guitar verse and whistling and bird calls from Alex Toth, the trumpeter, and Adam Dotson, the trombonist.

Almost every song contained a solo at some point. Toth delivered powerful notes from his trumpet, Dotson delivered vibrant trombone tones. Guitarist Ian Hersey and bassist Russ Flynn also shredded for a bit during the concert. Every solo contained so much emotion from each member and everything came from the soul.

One of the major highlights of the night was a particularly powerful solo from Toth that he described as “transcending.” The solo left Toth short of breath but he quickly recovered and continued playing.

But the best part of the concert was the debut of one brand new song, on top of a few others, “Came Out of a Lady,” a birthday song of sorts. With a relatively simple yet catchy bass line and an incredibly fun horn line, the song caught everyone up in the fun, including J. Witbeck, who pulled out his tuba to join the band onstage as a special guest artist for the song, mimicking the bass beat.

Soon enough the Iron Horse was cheering on the whole band, who then proceeded to leave the stage and enter the crowd, horns and all, wandering around while still playing until they decided to get back on stage and end the song, and the show.

Traver, co-leader of the band alongside Toth, describes Rubblebucket as “the biggest project of my life,” and Toth said, when asked about how far the band has come so far, “so much is coming together musically and fan base wise for us.”

When asked about playing on stage, David Cole, the drummer, described it as “staying relaxed and calm in a very exciting situation” and advised any current musicians to “always keep improving.”

It was sad to see the band leave the stage at 1 a.m., after an hour and a half long setlist but one thing is for certain: they will be back again soon.

Rubblebucket is definitely a band to keep your eyes and ears on. This is going to go somewhere. This is big.

Tappan Parker can be reached at rtparker@student.umass.edu.

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