Kal Traver gesticulates amongst balloons at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, MA - 12.30.17
Kal Traver gesticulates amongst balloons at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, MA - 12.30.17

Rubblebucket with Cuddle Magic Gateway City Arts, Holyoke, MA December 30, 2017
Story, photos, and video by Kelly D

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Glitter. Tutus. Balloons. Horns. Crowd-surfing. Grooving. Rubblebucket and their fans brought all this and more to Gateway City Arts in what’s become a glorious New Year’s Eve(ish) tradition, three years running. The electro-horn dance-funk outfit, based in Brooklyn, performed a life-affirming set on December 30th to hundreds of folks who braved the frigid temperatures outside to pack the event space at GCA, already a Holyoke institution in its fourth year of existence.

We all quickly warmed up by dancing to this phenomenally weird tribe of musicians’ ineffable blend of quirky lyrics, thumping horn section, and swirling synths. I first saw Rubblebucket at the old outdoor venue at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA back in August 2016. It was great fun even though I was by myself. This time around, though, I had my sister Becca as my date and that addition put the evening’s events over the top. She had seen Rubblebucket at GCA on New Year’s Eve in 2015 and was all too happy to join me. We’re deep in the Rubblebucket of love for the band, you see.

We came in at the end of the opener, a group dubbed Cuddle Magic. I liked what little I heard of them; they’re a sort of dreamy combination of EDM and shoegaze. The lead singer/frontman, Benjamin Lazar Davis, later made a reappearance as Rubblebucket’s bassist! That’s the best kind of nepotism.

After a brief intermission between the bands, wherein Becca and I ran into people we knew and got mad compliments on our ensembles (she went Beetlejuice style in a thrifted pinstripe monochromatic pantsuit and my outfit was essentially an explosion of rainbows), we finally snagged a spot off to the side, stage right.

Then on came Rubblebucket. The set began with the rousing tune “On the Ground” off of 2014’s Survival Sounds. Counterintuitively to the chorus, which goes thusly –

We, we, are on the ground, ground Please don’t shake, shake, us around ’round, no

– we absolutely did. It was off to the races, cuz after that came one of my personal favorites, “Donna.” Described by Kal Traver, the charismatic frontwoman of the band, as a song about an “imaginary lover,” it just begs you to move to its hypnotic beat. Because Rubblebucket, its hook is driven largely by Kal’s tenor sax. The crowd swayed and rocked as the hits kept on coming: “Sound of Erasing,” “My Life,” “If U C My Enemies”. . .

This was a hell of a setlist!

A cute moment occurred when the band started “Silly Fathers.” In front of Becca and me was Monte Belmonte, local radio personality as well as noted Rubblebucket superfan. He came with his entire family. He turned to his eldest child, pointed at himself, and yelled something- what I surmised to be a dad joke about he himself being a “Silly Father.” Meta AF. His progeny just gave him a tween look of bemusement and gestured towards his earplugs indicating he couldn’t hear him. Oh well, he tried.

In my slightly altered state, I had forgotten to bring in my camera’s spare battery and the one currently in use was rapidly dying with all the video I was taking. I ran out to the coatroom to dig furiously while Kal and Alex Toth, Traver’s partner in life as well as crime, encouraged everyone to get low to the ground, squatting while the other musicians on the stage kept time. Very Isley Brothers.

The audience participation came to an illustrious climax when Kal led the crowd in singing “Auld Lang Syne” (close enough to New Year’s, eh?) and then dove into the throngs to crowd-surf while she sang “Carousel Ride.” I watched in awe as the hands of fans held her up gently as she continued to sing as relaxed and at ease as if she was lounging on a down comforter.

Alex got a ride himself, playing his trumpet all the while. After a brief fakeout, the band got into the crowd once again for the encore with an refrain of “Shake Me Around,” the last song of the set, and the bopping “Save Charlie.” Kal created a makeshift conga line, pausing briefly to high-five a four-year-old friend. Not wanting to get smashed into my fellow fans, I watched from the sidelines but never stopped dancing. And that’s the thing with Rubblebucket- it doesn’t matter where you are in the venue cuz they’re gonna move you no matter what.


    1. On The Ground
    2. Donna
    3. Sound of Erasing
    4. Guitar solo
    5. New song- “Juicy”?
    6. My Life
    7. If U C My Enemies
    8. Not Cut Out For This
    9. Silly Fathers
    10. Pain from Love
    11. Came Out of a Lady
    12. Auld Lang Syne
    13. Carousel Ride
    14. Shake Me Around


    1. Shake Me Around (refrain)
    2. Save Charlie

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