With a name like Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, my interest was piqued before I even stepped foot in The Bluebird. GPGDS were the opening band for fan favorite G. Love & Special Sauce. Giant Panda, hailed as a psychedelic roots rock band from upstate NY, recently released a folk/Americana inspired album titled “In These Times”. I was very interested to see a reggae roots rock band play such a stark contrast in musical style from their previously released material. G. Love came out to introduce the boys from Rochester, exciting the crowd as the members of GPGDS took the stage. As the music began to play, it was obvious these guys weren’t playing normal folk music. The lyrics, use of the harmonica, and melodies produced by each of the guitarists were all Americana, but the bass lines and vocals were all roots rock.
Bassist James Searl owned the crowd from the very beginning, with animated facial expressions and commanding stage presence. The music meshed very well, with Dylan Savage, Aaron Lipp, and Chris O’Brian providing excellent vocal harmonies and playing perfect melodies. Most notably, during the song “Healing”. “Healing” also got my hips moving and brought a giant smile across my face. If you were with a significant other, it was impossible not wrap your arms around your lover during this song. With Searl bouncing around, one might not notice Aaron Lipp sitting quietly in his chair. He and guitarist Dylan Savage were shredding in the shadows of Searl’s limelight. Fueling the folk driven sound of Giant Panda’s Reggae-Americana. Another excellent song , “In These Times”, the self-titled track from their Americana album, further awed me with Giant Panda’s Reggae-Americana sound. The bass line was funky, but the lyrics were all folk. During “In These Times”, Searl wailed out, “Please don’t trouble me, I never trouble you. In these times. In these times. In these times. In this time.”Given the current state of our nation, “In These Times” was the perfect display of populist lyrics. My favorite song of the set was “Country”, which featured beautiful vocal harmonies and a country-inspired twang. Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad is more than a catchy band name, a definite must-see if they ever return to the Midwest. It is a rare event for an opener to steal the show, but the guys from upstate New York did so effortlessly. I don’t think anyone can replicate what Giant Panda is doing right now, but for these guys it definitely works.
G. Love & Special Sauce
G. Love & Special Sauce were the next act to take the stage. This was my third time seeing G. Love this year, but not my favorite. The fact is, artists are human and we as fans never know any extenuating circumstances, but the show as a whole was very flat.
I don’t really want to dwell on negatives, but I must be honest in my assessment. That being said, there were some positives. One being, the amazing work done by stand-up bassist, Timo Shanko. Timo sported a silver painted stand-up bass which he plucked to perfection. He did get the crowd going with, “Who’s Got The Weed”, the classic staple to many G. Love shows. Next, Shanko further amazed me with an awesome bass solo. G. Love is normally the overpowering stage presence, but Shanko was owning the crowd during this show. G. Love did get me going during “Parasite”, finally giving the crowd what they expected from a G. Love show. He rode the high, playing “Missing My Baby”, which had all the ladies panting for more from the heartthrob. Next, the group delivered their best song of the set, “Cold Beverage”. He was by far the most interactive during this song, finally standing up and moving around the stage. “Cold Beverage” is a fun song with very silly lyrics. He delivered on point with this well known song. He delivered on point with this well known song. Then the bottom fell out of the show. G. Love & Special Sauce ended as flat as they had begun. It was evident Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad had stole the show from the headliners. G. Love normally owns club shows, but I left the show very disappointed. It was perplexing given the quality of shows I’ve seen him play within the last few months. Like I said, artists are human and we all make mistakes. I’m sure my next G. Love & Special show will be amazing. He did win me back with a surprise late night sit-in with Bloomington locals The New Old Calvary at Max’s. G.Love jumped in as the members of The New Old Calvary huddled close together during an acoustic portion of their set. It was a pleasant surprise. He and his fiancee sat outside with the rest of the patrons reminiscing about shows of yesteryear. Further showing he was a normal human being, just like the rest of us.
Words by: Alex Toy
Photos by: Wide Aperture Images(Aaron Lingenfelter)