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Rubblebucket: Break Out the Dancing Shoes

Wednesday night, Rubblebucket brought it’s perfectly blended musical concoction to the Basement, where if your feet weren’t dancing your heart certainly was.The opening act was an electro-pop group from Michigan called Stepdad.  Unfortunately, they played to maybe 10 people.  The lack of attendance dumbfounded me because I know a large section of Columbus are suckers for what Stepdad plays.  Their EP Ordinaire is chock full of synth heavy pop nuggets like “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails” and “Squares” that will be stuck in your head for days.  So go buy the EP, and realize what you missed.  Then, when they come back and pack out Outland, you can be one of the ones that cheers when they say they played to 10 people at The Basement.  Sure you will be lying, but so will the thirty other people that will cheer.  Just pick up the EP, go on a late night drive through downtown (right after it has rained would be ideal), and discover Stepdad.Let me set the scene a little bit for Rubblebucket, Wednesday night.  A sign behind the merchant table reads: T-shirt + Koozie + Hug – $20.  There are a group of teenage girls with their faces painted hugging their just arriving, similarly adorned friends.  Neon streamers are strung up on mic stands.  People with a lot of hair, and a lot of smiles.  If you had flashbacks to being dragged to a jam band back in undergrad, where you were assaulted with hours of aimless guitar noodling all because you were trying to impress that earthy girl you were crushing on (just me?), you would be wrong.

Photo Credit: Steve Leibrand ; Columbus Wired

Here’s the thing: I’ve tried to find a concise way to describe Rubblebucket’s sound.  It’s just not possible.  I got as far as Talking Heads meets afro-beat meets French pop with a long lost Jackson 5 guitar lick.  The problem is, I used all that just to describe their song “Silly Fathers.”  I guess that’s why people have put the vague label, ‘yes-wave,’ upon them.  There is certainly a world beat core to their sound, but they expand upon that so wildly and take musical detours so often it would be misleading to label them as such.  I guess I’m saying it would be misleading to label them at all.  You just have to hear and experience them, which, thankfully, I got to do Wednesday night.

The eight piece opened up with “Raining” which starts off with, lead singer and saxophonist, Kalmia Traver singing almost monotone over a simple bass line that then explodes into a pre-chorus of waterfall synths till it dips back into a slightly quicker groove and then explodes again with Traver exchanging vocals with, band leader and trumpeter, Alex Toth on the chorus.
Their third song in the set, Breatherz (Young as Clouds), starts off with a jangly guitar picking but half-way through the song a heavy syth takes over and completely changes the sound, but still the band makes it a cohesive song.  That’s the thing about the music Rubblebucket create, they have to be excellent musicians to play these songs live, and not just individually but excellent musicians as a unit.  Tonight, they nailed it every time from the slightly off beat vocals of Traver and Toth on “Triangular Daisies” to their brilliant expanded cover of Bowie’s “Up the Hill Backwards.”  Thankfully the small but energetic crowd returned the energy and vibe the band wanted to share.  Honestly, the band and the crowd danced and celebrated as one the whole 16 song set.    With the horn section mixing with the crowd during “Came Out of a Lady,” and Tarver dancing all over the place while the rest of the band exchanged solos, it truly was a sharing experience and not just a “watch us play some songs we wrote.”  There was even an honest to goodness non-fabricated encore, where they asked the audience what they wanted to hear.  One audience member responded, “Everything you’ve ever done.”  A little unrealistic, but they did get “Bikes,” though without the baritone sax because Tarver had already put it away.

It was a brilliant night of not just music, but musicianship, and the joy that brings to a band and its audience.  The one problem I have now is I need to call that earthy girl I haven’t spoken to in years and tell her there’s this band called Rubblebucket that she will love.  Maybe an email will suffice.

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