Words by Brett Thorne.
Matt Embree took the stage Sunday night (3/14) at Emo’s to roaring applause and mushrooming clouds of smoke from the audience. He fumbled with his Les Paul and joked with audience members who were pinned to the front of the stage. With a bandana holding back shocks of long hair that fell on to the back of his skinny frame, he looked less like the ska-punk that started RX Bandits 15 years ago and more like a Woodstock performer who jumped in a (hot tub?) time machine and landed in 2010.
Indeed the band has undergone changes from when they formed in 1995 and began releasing material on Drive-Thru Records. In that time they have started their own record label, lost four members, added two others and toured with Portugal. The Man, Maps and Atlases and Dredg.
So it was no surprise to hear the Bandit’s set consistently meander into jam band territory with multi-instrumentalist Steve Choi bouncing between guitar, keyboard and drums and guitarist and vocalist Matt Embree leading the crowd in some Marley-esque “ooh-oohs.”
The band’s lyrical content has undergone changes as well. While many of the band’s old songs were standard ballads of unrequited love and heartbreak, Embree’s lyrics have gradually crossed into the realm of social issues and politics. While the words are at times clunky (“Shall we be terrified of the unknown? Insurgent vicissitude of time!”) the lyrical growth can certainly be appreciated.
The set opened when Embree began playing a simple guitar rhythm and looped a a noodly lead over it. The band launched into an instrumental jam session that brought to mind Deloused In the Comatorium-era Mars Volta.
RX Bandits jamming at Emo’s, joined midway
by Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez | link
The band’s set was heavy on material from their latest release Mandala, including “Mientras la Veo Sonar,” “March of the Caterpillar,” and the closer “Bring Our Children Home or Everything is Nothing.”
Christopher Tsagakis’ drumming was one of the highlights of the night. It was no surprise that the man who forms the rhythmic backbone of the spastic, oft-mathematical Sound of Animals Fighting could handle the skins as well as he did. Nevertheless, it was mesmerizing to see him go to work.
A band with the technical proficiency of the RX Bandits should never hide behind a veil of simple bar chords and boring song structures. The RX Bandits have no problem flying their virtuoso flags high, so it was good to see Choi strain to hit every note of every solo. It was great to see head bobbing to the rhythm section of Tsagakis and bassist Joseph Troy.
As the final notes of “Bring Our Children Home” faded and the cheers of the crowd heightened, Embree faced the crowd with a fist in the air, and in true rock star activist fashion proclaimed “power to the peacemakers.”