SHOW REVIEW: UpstateLIVE Holiday Party @ Water Street Music Hall – 12/29/11

There is something magical about the holiday season.   As we close in on a year gone past, we open our hands and hearts to the unpredictable colors and patterns of the road ahead.  Good food, drink, friends, and family bring a sense of warmth to these otherwise frigid months, and we rejoice in what matters most.  Here at UpstateLIVE, the season marks a time to celebrate the end (and beginning) of another successful year of supporting and promoting local music.   And it goes without saying that if music, Upstate, and HerbyOne are involved, it’s going to be a party.

Young,  Buffalo-based prog rockers, Aqueous, shared the stage with Rochester juggernaut The Buddhahood, and eclectic dance-party hosts Rubblebucket, providing high quality entertainment for the UpstateLIVE Holiday Party, December 28th at the Water Street Music Hall in Rochester.   Hosted by HerbyOne, the holiday extravaganza showcased NY’s up-and-coming, along with more nostalgic, reputable sounds, providing a true reflection of the unique scene we’ve built around the Upstate region over the years.

“The show with Rubblebucket and The Buddhahood through UpstateLIVE was super memorable and one we totally loved,” said Mike Gantzer, lead guitarist  for the band Aqueous, who performed as the party’s opening act.  Hitting Water Street’s stage for the first time, the boys of Aqueous set the tone of the evening with a high-energy performance that showcased several of their originals.  “We had a fantastic time opening the night up, the energy from the crowd was fantastic right from the get-go and made for a really fun set,” commented Gantzer. Much like Umphrey’s McGee, the band has a hodge-podge rock of a sound, yet they draw on inspirations from other “jam favorites,” like the Grateful Dead, Phish, and Moe, and the influence is clearly heard.   While still a few days shy of New Years Eve, toward the end of the set, the band found room to tease in Auld Lange Syne, gearing the crowd up for the new year and the anticipation of what’s to come for the band in 2012.   The talent of the band is undeniable; impressive progressions and complicated signatures hone in on their potential, and once they lock in on their sound, they’ll storm in as a force to be reckoned with – both throughout the Upstate scene and beyond.

Following Aqueous’ set, I found myself drawn in from the smell of the pizzas being baked in the club section of Water Street and sat down with a couple friends for a brew and a quick bite.  (Aside from the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, I’ve never been to a venue that sells decent food during shows, so I commend Water Street on their ingenuity in this regard.)   I was roused from my seat from a unique blend of percussion and horns permeating from the stage next door – and heading back into the main section of the venue, I couldn’t help but find myself emulating the unstoppable energy from the heart-warming, familiar sounds of The Buddhahood.  When I think of a holiday happening, more often than not I think of family and, as their name implies, The Buddhahood is just that.    This Rochester-based eight-piece has a synergy unlike any other – their heavy emphasis on percussion, mixed with the playful sounds of the trumpet and sax are complimented with steady rhythms from the guitar and bass.  Their vocals and lyrics are just as light hearted as the music itself, and in the end they create a sound and presence that is part of us all.  The Buddhahood served as the perfect precursor to Rubblebucket, in that by the end of the set, there wasn’t an idle soul in the place.  And closing with lyrics like, “doesn’t it make you feel so good when you’re dancing, “ it’s no wonder why, with the presence of The Buddhahood, the party was now in full swing.

Taking a breather from the heightened energy of The Buddhahood’s set, the crowd waited anxiously, yet patiently for the much-anticipated performance from the Ver-Brook-Ston (Vermont/Brooklyn/Boston) touring act we have come to love and know as Rubblebucket.  With the release of a new album, Omega La La, and an expanded national repertoire, the band has created quite the name for themselves in the past year, and as I scanned the crowed pre-set, I couldn’t help but notice a stark difference in the colorful pattern surrounding the stage.   Many of the attendees, I realized, were very young in age – the fact that I felt “old” was disheartening, but nevertheless it was humbling, for it centered in on the co-existential space locked into Rubblebucket’s unique sound.

Watching Rubblebucket perform live is more than just a concert, rather it is a theatrical act.   With colorful props and over-active kinesthetics, Rubblebucket creates a concert-going experience unlike any other.   Not only are they, arguably, one of the most solidified, talented touring acts to come out of the Upstate region, they know how to speak to a crowd – infusing eclectic worldly sounds with a heightened sense of energy and musical integrity that keeps fans on the balls of their feet, moving to the beat, overly satisfied with the intensity and virtuosity of the performance, but deep down secretly wanting more.   “Their songs are so well crafted and eclectic that I am constantly surprised, yet equally familiar with each melody,” said Syracuse-native Phil Smolinski, who made the trek to Rochester for a chance to catch the well-rumored Rubblebucket live.

Hitting the stage shortly before midnight, the band primarily showcased songs from their new album, but older tunes from their days of touring and recording as Rubblebucket Orchestra made their way into the set, creating space to speak to both fans old and new.   Mid-set, giant child-like constructed robots danced through the crowd, high-fiving fans and moving to the earthy rhythms of Rubblebucket’s enchanting sound.   The band showcased a new song, “More Deeper Rage,” and although the crowd wasn’t overly impressed, the energy returned when they busted into fan favorite, “Came Out of a Lady” and the party was once again in full swing.  Of course no Rubblebucket performance is complete unless fore-fronting power-woman Annakalmia Trevor,  Alex Troth, and Adam Dotson work their way into the crowd.   Joined by their horns and robot friends, the band members danced throughout the energized crowd, transcending fan-performer boundaries that are often so stiffly set during live performances.

“Working with Herby and everyone involved with UpstateLIVE has been such a great experience this entire year, and we have really felt the love and support on all level,” reflects Gantzer. I can’t help but echo his love and appreciation as I, too, reflect on, yet again, another memorable Upstate performance and the opportunity to be part of such a magical, community-driven scene.  I’m looking forward to what’s to come in 2012.  See you at the shows!

by Kayla Maclachlan