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We'll huff, and we'll puff: Rubblebucket Orchestra.

Photo: Julia Zave

Show Up and Dance

By Josh Potter

Rubblebucket Orchestra

Red Square, June 6

In Portland, Ore. it is said, with both pride and prejudice, that “Portland doesn’t dance.” While few parallels can generally be made between the Capital Region and the City of Roses, Albany nearly earned itself this same distinction Friday night. However, far from the detached hipster-dom that keeps Portland’s hands in its pockets, Albany’s problem with dancing is more its attendance than ennui. The Rubblebucket Orchestra is a veritable Afro-beat funk-turbine, but even with ten-members it was hard for them to throw a dance-party when there were as many people onstage as in front of it.

Every gig in a band this big must feel like a dance party though, because the thin crowd didn’t keep the band from getting loose. Proving themselves fluent in both Fela Kuti and the Talking Heads, Rubblebucket laid waste to any doubt that a bunch of white kids from Vermont could be on the forefront of an African musical form. Far beyond the thin Afro-beat posturing of the much-ballyhooed Vampire Weekend, the band built lush vamps from the ground up. Kora trickled through triumphant horn figures and teased clever counterpoint from Rhodes and guitar. Throughout compositions that exceeded Afro-beat’s usual complexity, the band allowed each texture plenty of space to breathe before turning like a flock of birds to enter unforeseen B and C sections.

Above it all, Kalmia Traver’s alto sax and multilingual croon probed oblique lyrical terrain, at one point even conjuring Bjork in a song about a “secret hiding place.” At once pleading and celebratory, the pathos of revolution were present in each tune, but the presentation was far more personal than political. Trumpet, trombone, and baritone sax all weighed in with solos both rowdy and mournful.

Throughout the two-set show the band frothed and swarmed into a lather of abandon. Fortunately, by night’s end, so too did the crowd—slim in number but wild with locomotion. Leaving their perch onstage, the four-piece horn section paraded across the floor, honking and squealing all over any snarky words one might have to say about Albany’s dancing habits.

Fun Again

The Breeders

Pearl Street Nightclub, Northampton, Mass., June 4

I was so out of it musically—well, not just musically, not to put too fine a point on it—in the late 1980s, that I actually got into the Breeders before the Pixies. (I know, I know—there goes what little is left of my bona fides.) Their debut, Pod, was a shambling delight; the EP Safari was spacey and garage-y; and 1993’s Last Splash was a pop-rock smash—as in smashing glass. I listened to them over and over through the 1990s.

That was a long time ago.

Now the sisters Deal, of Dayton, Ohio, are back, with a newish lineup and a new album (Mountain Battles) that’s fun fun fun—fun that was reflected in their joyful performance in Northampton, Mass., last week.

Kim was happy. Kelley was happy. They bantered with the audience, some of whom seemed to be following the Breeders from show to show. More importantly, the five-piece edition of the band—when everyone was playing—was a wall of fierce, jangling sound. They burned through 20 songs, including the encore, with an efficiency that was entirely admirable. The audience got a little restless near the end; a couple of mostly acoustic songs seemed to confuse them, though “Happiness is a Warm Gun” shut them up. (Even the jackass who kept yelling “Free Bird.” Jesus, that’s so 2002.) But mostly they were as happy as the band.

The encore was not “Cannonball,” by the way. They brought the house down with that one mid-show.

The set list spanned their entire career, and included some covers (of other Dayton bands). The audience was pleasingly diverse, which is my way of saying that, unlike at most club shows, I wasn’t the oldest person there.

Openers Montana Boys (from Michigan, making this an all-Midwestern program) were loud and sludgy. I mean this as a compliment.

—Shawn Stone

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