Live Concert Photography: Rubblebucket with Diet Cig at Brooklyn Steel 1/26/18
Over the course of this site’s almost nine-year history, I’ve managed to photograph and write quite a bit about Brooklyn dance pop act and JOVM mainstays Rubblebucket. And although the band has gone through a number of permutations and iterations, there’s one consistent thing — the band’s founding duo and primary songwriters Alex Toth (trumpet, vocals, percussion) and Kalmia Traver (lead vocals, tenor sax and baritone sax). Now, as you may recall, Toth and Traver can trace their origins of their collaboration to when they met while playing in a Burlington, VT-based Latin jazz act.
Once Toth and Traver relocated to Brooklyn, along with a full-fledged band emerged onto the national scene with the release of 2011’s critically applauded sophomore album Omega La La, and an already established reputation for a relentless touring schedule full of ecstatic, energetic and mischievous, dance party-inducing live sets. Since the release of Omega La La, Rubblebucket’s recorded output has revealed a band that has crafted, then cemented a signature sound — although with some of their most recent releases, they’ve managed to subtly expand upon that sound. Simultaneously, Traver fully stepped into the role of the band’s frontperson with a growing self-assuredness.
Sun Machine, the band’s fifth full-length album was released last summer, an the album may arguably be the most personal that the Traver and Toth have ever written, as the album’s material is largely inspired by the end of the duo’s longtime romantic relationship — and their desire to continue their deep and lasting connection both personally and creatively. Unsurprisingly, the album also touches on and draws from a number of major, life-changing events the duo have experienced over the past few years — namely, Traver’s ovarian cancer diagnosis back in 2013, which was followed by rounds of surgeries and chemotherapy treatments; Toth’s decision to get sober after a long struggle with alcoholism; and the couple’s three-year attempt at maintaining an open relationship.
While the album sonically found the duo maintaining elements of the sound that first captured the attention of the blogosphere, it’s also a continued expansion of their sound with the band crafting ebullient dance floor numbers that are emotionally ambivalent but rooted in a radical mindfulness. But at its core, the album is an aching breakup album, imbued with a wistfulness over what once was, and a palpable, undying and unconditional love, making it a sincere, mature album with a very adult perspective on love, devotion and honor.
Musically speaking, the album found Toth and Traver tapping into their jazz training with many moments throughout the album driven by improvisation. “There’s a lot of moments on this album that happened from us being in a trance-like zone, and coming up with weird sounds in the middle of recording, sometimes by accident,” Alex Toth said in press notes. At its core, the duo hope that the album will encourage both new listeners and fans to see the possibility of transformation in painful experiences. “When I got cancer and Alex quit drinking, that was the beginning of a huge journey for both of us,” Kalmia Traver says. “So much of that journey has been about giving myself the freedom to exist on my own terms, believing in my ideas instead of self-editing. I think this album represents both of us allowing ourselves that freedom in a totally new way, and hopefully it’ll give people inspiration to be creative in their own lives, and to just soften up a bit too.”
Earlier this year, Traver and Toth, along with the members of their touring band were on a lengthy tour to support Sun Machine, which included a stop at Brooklyn Steel with the New Paltz, NY-based pop-punk duo Diet Cig. While the set primarily focused on the material off Sun Machine, it was a career spanning set that concluded with the horn section and their drummer marching through the Brooklyn Steel crowd. Check out some long overdue photos from the show below.
Opening the night was the New Paltz, NY-based pop-punk duo Diet Cig. Comprised of Alex Luciano (guitar, vocals) and Noah Bowman), the act can trace their origins to when the duo met at a house show that Bowman’s previous band Earl Boykins was playing. As the story goes, Luciano needed a cigarette lighter, and she interrupted the Earl Boykins set by asking Bowman if he had a lighter; but he gave her a bottle of wine instead. Afterwards, Luciano got his number and told him that she’d make a music video for him. And as the story goes, Bowman met Luciano, tattooed a daisy on Luciano’s foot and by August 2014, the duo were writing material together.
The band’s debut EP, 2015’s Over Easy, which derives its name from a breakfast special at New Paltz’s The Main Street Bistro, where Luciano and Bowman were regulars caught the attention of the blogosphere for its sweet earnestness and urgent playing. The duo’s full-length debut, 2017’s Swear I’m Good At This found the band thematically railing against people who have dismissed their opinions and judged them unfairly simply because they didn’t quite live up to a societal norm or expectation. Diet Cig’s opening set was also a career-to-date spanning set.