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A trusted musician friend of mine stated matter of fact that the Xenia Rubinos show at Mexican Sans Frontiers (MSF) on Friday, March 23rd was “not to be missed.” Despite a steady rain that at times was downright torrential I decided to take his word for it and made my way to the Avenue for the Arts. MSF is one of the best live music venues in Grand Rapids, and its immediacy and intimacy and psychedelic romper room were the perfect setting for Xenia Rubinos’ playful and arty anthems.
Opener Elipce seemed to grow up right before our eyes. After a tentative opening song, their set seemed to gain confidence with each subsequent song and by the end had found their voice and stride. Elipce converges styles of heavy rock and Latin pop continues to evolve as their musical vocabulary expands, they could easily carve out a niche for themselves.
In the intermission between bands, it was fitting that one of the songs playing as Rubinos and her band set up was “So Wat'Cha Want” by the Beastie Boys. Much like them, Rubinos’ band is a three piece that hails from Brooklyn, NY and share a musical kinship of a collage of influences that is mind-boggling cool, intellectual and yet party-til-yer-stupid fun. I knew it was a good sign when bassist Adam Minkoff was playing along with "So Wat'Cha Want" and improvising and improving on it.
The band, which also features the machine gun-like Marco Buccelli on drums, began with a wall of pre-recorded harmonized voices that called to mind the Flaming Lips’ “Yeah Yeah Yeah” song. The band launched into a groove that was both heavy and buoyant and then that voice- that is what really blows the top of the place- Xenia Rubinos can sing. And then it's the unpredictable and interesting Einstürzende Neubauten moments, like the scraping door opening and closing sound on “Whirlwind” that make for such an enjoyable listening experience.
Rubinos lists her influences as “Cuban and Puerto Rican children’s songs and rhymes, gyil music of Ghana [and] Jose Marti.” Imagine all that backed by Devo’s rhythm section. It is math rock with a much needed infectious party shake spice world view. The band tore through numbers of their album Magic Trix such as “Help,” the rousing “Pan y cafe” and the cross cultural tour of “Hair Receding.” The set was a highly original confection of influences, much like the variety of objects that adorn the Magic Trix album art...a collage of press clippings, postcards, candles, and Cafe Bustello cans.
This was Rubinos’ second time in Grand Rapids. The next time she comes through town, take my friends' advice: it is certainly not to be missed. One gets the feeling the opportunity to see this unique and challenging artist in such an intimate setting again. As she sings “What you’re doing, it’s the right thing.”
Steven Davison was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mi. He holds degrees in English, Environmental Studies and Geography.