Rubblebucket, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY- 11/21
Photo by Gloria Lee
It wasn’t until a third into Rubblebucket’s set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on November 21 that I finally “got it.” I had been listening to the octet’s work all day, especially their 2013 EP, Save Charlie, and kept wondering, “How would this translate live?”
The bombastic sounds of their EP seemed much more appropriate with a massive pair of headphones on one’s head, cluing in on exact sounds, singling out the trumpet work of bandleader Alex Toth or the harmonious vocals of lead singer, Annakalmia (Kalmia) Traver. But, after watching the group painted in neon body paint and dancing around the stage, I began to understand that Rubblebucket exists in their own space, embodying a raucous energy, while infusing psychedelic, folk, rock and funk into their music.
The Music Hall of Williamsburg show seemed like a homecoming of sorts. Even though the group formed while Toth and Traver were attending college together at University of Vermont in Burlington, VT, their style has always been something suited to the more indie disco scene that has characterized the enigmatic borough.
After their 2008 debut album, Rosie’s Dream, Rubblebucket was fast becoming the next indie rock de jour, earning spots on Relix’s “On The Verge,” SPIN Magazine’s “Must-hear artist from the 2009 CMJs” and even a Boston Music Award for Live Act of the Year.
All seemed on track as they made the rounds on the festival circuit, hitting High Sierra, All Good Festival, Catskill Chill, and more. But, as life often does, it threw a curveball at the band; their progress stalled as Kalmia Traver was diagnosed with ovarian cancer early this past summer. However, rather than derail, Rubblebucket decided to take a lengthy break from touring, and judging from their show at Music Hall of Williamsburg, came out all the stronger.
Armed with a bald head (painted neon of course) and a badass attitude, Kalmia trounced around the stage, while engaging Toth and fellow brassman Adam Dotson in choreographed dances that seem more apropos to a funk show or episode of Soul Train rather than an indie rock dance show.
But, that’s exactly what Rubblebucket is – a rejection of what a band of their type should sound like. They almost sounds like Paul Simon circa Graceland combined with a ska group like Less than Jake or Streetlight Manifesto. Rubblebucket ran through cuts from their previous albums at an often exacerbated pace, leaving little time for the audience to do anything but dance the night away. “Ooh Waa” glistened with ebullient pop gloss while “Pain From Love” gave way to the maternal ode “Came Out Of A Lady.” The group even thrilled fans by playing three tracks from a forthcoming album that should be released next year, including a reggae-toned number tentatively titled “On The Ground.”
The coup de grace of the evening however, was the last song, “Patriotic,” during which Toth began crowd surfing until settling onto a spot in the middle of the pit where he was joined by his fellow bandmates. An all-out dance party ensued, filled with brass instruments, wacky dance moves, and audience participation.
However, this is nothing new for fans or band alike. They are a group that truly loves being on stage together and exuding the pure joy of life. They have gone through so much lately that the show felt like a victory party. The events of the evening might as well have taken place in a loft or college house, with Rubblebucket blurring the line between performer and audience. Above all else, Kalmia and Rubblebucket are a force to be reckoned with that will grow stronger as they charge full steam ahead into the future.