What kind of noise does a castrated baboon make? I’m not really sure, but I guess for Rubblebucket, that’s what the ultimate “stoked” crowd noise sounds like. Part way through their set, Rubblebucket’s singer Kalmia Traver was hyping the crowd between songs and screamed that she wanted us to, “make a noise that a baboon makes when you fuckin’ slice it’s dick up!” I’m not sure I’ve ever screamed like that, but I tried my hardest at what was probably one of the best, and most energetic, shows I’ve ever been to. The only thing I can think of that comes close, in terms of spectacle, has probably been The Flaming Lips.
When I got to the State Room on Saturday, about 20 minutes before the music was supposed to start, there was no one else there, which is not really the best sign in the world for a touring band. Most of the time, when a popular touring act comes to a mid-sized room like this, on a weekend, there will be a sizable crowd waiting around to get a spot at the front of the stage. Empty rooms are usually reserved for unknown acts playing at Kilby Court on a Tuesday, or something. By the time the face-paint wearing Body Language got on stage, there were a few more people there, but they didn’t let the small-ish crowd get them down. With a rapid fire of songs, and no breaks between to let the energy die, Body Language tried to win over the gradually growing crowd at The State Room. After their first or second song, vocalist Angelica Bess urged the small crowd forward, “Come closer, I wanna see how cute you are.”
Body Language play a kind of soulful indie electronic pop that sounds like if Passion Pit was making music in the ‘70s, funky indie pop with a healthy dose of Daft Punk-styled vocal effects. It was the perfect kind of music to get a crowd of awkward white people on their feet and dancing. At the beginning of their set most of the sparse crowd was sitting in the theatre seats at the back of the room, but by the middle everyone was on the floor dancing, with all the latecomers joining in. Thankfully, by the time Body Language were playing their last songs, the crowd was full of people dancing to their their special brand of synth pop. It would have been a tragedy if this great band had to play to no one.
After some time setting up, Rubblebucket discreetly walked on stage, gave a short, “Hey,” and launched into an hour-plus set of their soulful, dance-y, indie pop. Rubblebucket’s live show mixes ideas from other really great live acts that I’ve been able to see in the last few years. Notably, they have a psychedelic element to their stage show that reminds me of a cuter version of some of the stuff that The Flaming Lips have done. Early on, they were projecting some cute cartoon-looking stuff onto their backdrop, including some Despicable Me looking one eye’d clouds. They also included some coordinated dance moves into their show, which was reminiscent of the most recent St. Vincent show, though more playful and less robotic. Toward the end of their set, the flower monster they rescued in the music video for “Carousel Ride” came on stage and presented Traver with a rose, and then just kind of stood there while they played that song. Weird.
Beyond their planned stage antics, Rubblebucket put on an amazing show. Their new record, Survival Sounds, is one of my favorite albums of 2014, and those songs really shine in a live setting. Kalmia Traver is an extremely engaging frontwoman, and I think her bouncy presence at the front of the stage really helped everyone in the audience loosen up and bounce around with her. Before they played their song “Origami,” Traver was trying to coach the audience on some backup vocals and scolded some people up front, who weren’t paying attention, with, “Teacher says pay attention or you’ll be in detention.” You won’t find a better response to crowd chatter outside of stand up comedy.
Musically, everything was anchored in the kind of funky, horn-led style that they’re well known for, but live, some of their songs take on a bit of a new character that might not not be as obvious on the album. “You Came Out Of A Lady,” is just as much of a party live as you might expect, but songs like “Middle” were a lot washier and noisier live that they seem on record. The guitar player in this band really shines live in a way that I haven’t necessarily noticed on their record. It’s often very textural, but he is doing some really cool stuff that really helps Rubblebucket shape their sound.
The biggest treat of the night came at the end of the encore, when, instead of thanking everyone and walking of stage like a normal band, they grabbed their horns and some drums and lead the crowed, pied piper fashion, into the lobby area for an improvised sing along. The saxophone, trombone, and drums kept things going while the trumpet player hopped up on the bar and led the audience in a sing/shout along. I can’t imagine a better ending to a concert. Rubblebucket have something really cool going on, and with any luck they’re going to keep getting popular so that they won’t be able to get away with ending their shows like this anymore.
As we were leaving the venue my friend said this was one of the best shows he’s ever been to. I’ve been to my fair share of rock concerts, but I don’t disagree.