huff, and we'll puff: Rubblebucket Orchestra.
Up and Dance
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.
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.