I first heard Rubblebucket while road tripping from Boulder to Memphis in 2012. A friend and I were on tour with Umphrey’s and, since I was driving, he was in charge of the music. Needless to say, I completely fell in love with this band the minute their energetic sound exploded through my speakers.
From that moment I knew I had to see them live and on December 7th Rubblebucket was finally playing my home town, Chicago. The show was also being held at one of my favorite small venues in the city, Lincoln Hall. This room’s quaint layout contains a small U-shaped balcony that overlooks the dance floor and mousy stage. A bird’s eye view is my favorite vantage point to see a show, so I headed upstairs and claimed space on the balcony ledge just before the show started.
Rubblebucket is a 7 piece band based out of Brooklyn. Their sound is similar to Phantogram’s mixed with the chaos of LCD Soundsystem and the groove of Burning Spear. You can hear jazz influences, along with funk and even disco throughout their catalog. There is undoubtedly an element of pop that attempts to break the surface but Rubblebucket is just too awesome to let that happen.
Overall, their live show was both inspiring and engaging. Rubblebucket is the type of band that fosters an exchange of energy between themselves and their audience. As the night progressed, I couldn’t help notice a change in the crowd’s confidence while I watched from my balcony perch. It was as if all insecurities got washed away as the whole room finally let loose.
The band’s leader, Alex Toth, takes on the role of trumpeter while his right-hand man, Adam Dotson, holds down the trombone. The pair multitasks as backup vocalists, whistlers, and synchronized dancers throughout the show, but its saxophonist Kalmia Traver on lead vocals that truly blows you away. Her high energy, passionate performance is wild. When she wasn’t encouraging everyone to sing along, she pranced around in her leopard print overalls passing out high-5’s to audience members in the first row.
What many may not know is that this bad ass rock star has no hair is because she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer this past year. Rubblebucket’s most recent tour actually started just as Kalmia finished up her last round of chemotherapy. Magnificently enough, by the time the tour got to Chicago this woman had more life than any other person at the Lincoln Hall show. She energetically danced across the stage throughout her performance and even jumped in the crowd from time to time.
In fact, the highlight of the night arrived when Traver abandoned the stage to sing the first verse of “Came Out of a Lady” from the middle of the dance floor. By the end of the song, the whole brass section was throwing down in the center of the room as the audience danced around them. As if this scene couldn’t get any more stimulating, the energy of the room finally exploded into a frenzy as hundreds of balloons dropped from the ceiling.
Rubblebucket’s emphasis on audience interaction is a refreshing approach to the live music experience. The bells and whistles of their Chicago show included two marriage proposals (one fake and one real), a balloon drop, a parachute that covered half the crowd, and even a cover of the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes”. Needless to say, I left the show that night more in love with this band than ever before. Usually our scene doesn’t produce too many breakout mainstream acts, but I am really excited to see what the future holds for Rubblebucket.
Here is a sweet video I shot at the show!