Things are starting to get interesting. Indie rock, that catch-all term that really denotes nothing other than a new generation's alternative rock, is broadening its reach, incorporating twists in genre and new stylistic bents, and morphing into a music that defies easy categorization. That denotes a healthy state of affairs, a flexibility and open-mindedness, and a willingness to stare down genre classifications.
Perhaps no young band is more emblematic of this new liberal approach to indie rock than Rubblebucket, the Vermont-born, Brooklyn-based eight-piece outfit currently bubbling under and threatening to explode into the mainstream any day now.
The band headlined a bill Tuesday in the Rapids Theatre in Niagara Falls before an ebullient and enthused – though far from sold-out – house. Those in attendance – the all-ages show did indeed seem to bring a few generations to the Rapids, though twentysomethings clearly formed the majority – didn't seem to be overthinking things too much. If Rubblebucket married psychedelia to vaguely African rhythms, threw in a dash of ska, and then presented the whole thing as danceable art rock, well, no one paused to scratch their head and wonder how they were expected to react. They simply danced, hooted, hollered, sang along and embraced singer and frontwoman extraordinaire Kalmia Traver when she hopped off the stage and deigned to boogie with the masses down in front.
Much of Rubblebucket's electrifying set drew from its most recent album, "Omega La La," a collection the assembled had clearly familiarized themselves with. The group's just-released EP, "Oversaturated," was also heavily featured, and again, the crowd members appeared to have done their homework.
It's tempting to say that Rubblebucket is all about singer Traver – the way she moves, her Bjork-like melodic interjections and flights of vocal fancy, She's the very definition of charismatic, and clearly a focal point, a charming entryway into the music itself.
But there's much more to the story than that. Indeed, Rubblebucket is a band most deeply concerned with rhythm – the manipulation of it, the dividing of it into polyrhythms, the sectioning of it into grooves. Messing with meter – or doing the exact opposite, by establishing a metronomic, repetitive pulse that can become its own sort of trancelike groove – is Rubblebucket's metier. Bearing this in mind, it should be acknowledged that Tuesday's show was as much about the interplay between bassist Jordan Brooks and drummer Dave Cole as it was about the eclectically sexy doings of Traver. "L'homme," "Worker," "Oversaturated" – all were propelled by the rhythm section's relentless lock-step.
A hats off is required for the horn section as well – trumpeter and band founder Alex Toth and trombonist Adam Dotson, joined on occasion by Traver on baritone saxophone, brought elements of soul, funk and island music to the psychedelic world-beat stew.
Speaking of world beat, opener Reptar, an Athens, Ga., quartet, borrowed freely from African and Caribbean traditions, but blurred the edges consistently by marrying those traditions to the "anything goes" indie rock ethic. This made for some serious excitement, as the group brought elements of Talking Heads' seminal "Remain In Light" album to the table, and then interpreted those elements like one imagines it might sound if the Flaming Lips were to cover a tune by Johnny Clegg & Savuka. Strange, wholly unexpected, and pretty wonderful.
Walking away from the Rapids Theatre in the wee small hours Wednesday morning, one felt the overwhelming sense that indie rock is spreading its wings, becoming both more daring and more musical. Which suggests we're in for a wild ride. This should make us smile.
Tuesday night in the Rapids Theatre, 1711 Main St., Niagara Falls.