Bearquarium & iLa Mawana | A One-Two Punch at Metronome
Shuffling onto the stage with a slow perusal of the audience, iLa Mawana has a fairly good sense of what they’re about to accomplish. The crowd has filtered throughout Club Metronome, at the bar, in the back talking, or stepping outside for a smoke; but even with the small remaining groups on the dance floor, iLa Mawana, as a whole, smiles. Singer Gianpaolo Blower wears his usual round sunglasses. He’s tall and broad shouldered, but when he speaks he comes across as a gentle good vibes sort of man: “You all ready for some reggae?” he asks, and the bass kicks in with the contagious if not simple jaunt of “Soldiers of Sound”, the title track from their debut full length album.
Newest members, Greg Toro on bass and Elliot Jacobs on drums, have turned iLa Mawana into a much heavier, meatier reggae band, whereas my criticism of them in the past had always been how humble their bass and drums were in the mix. That is no longer the case.
Reggae’s backbone is drum and bass, and so to have a line-up change like this is potentially damaging, but iLa Mawana simply sounds more rootsy, and more than that, they are driven by a newfound vibe. Guitarist Dave Rosen, cleanly shaven for tonight’s show, bobs his head and stamps his feet. Keyboardist Steve Malinowski has a completely elated smile on his face, which begins at the first note and never ceases. They allow “Soldiers of Sound” to build and find its way; such a perfectly chosen opening song, as soon enough the audience increases in size. How could you not look towards the stage when the thumping two-note groove of the end refrain jostles you from the groin up?
They waste no time in jumping into “Heaven’s Beach”, off their EP. The horns get to expand on this one, and then, through “jigyo Keta” and “Voodoo Spell” the band upwardly advances in entertaining the crowd, moving around more, adding in solos.
“Karmaland” tonight is the best version I’ve heard yet. They speed it up slightly from the record’s version, and Gianpaolo indulges in letting his voice loosen up.
After a groovy version of “Spaghetti and Eightballs”, Gianpaolo announces they have one song left, for which they’ve saved “Mortal Motion”, the horns take control now, and most of the crowd is dancing.
Considered the night’s opener, iLa Mawana basically lit a fire. They’ve played Burlington before, but not too often, although they spent the fall and winter on their live act, so that they took the recorded versions of Soldiers of Sound and made them simmer live. These minute alterations between album and show are what make live acts great, and what makes them worth seeing.
Soldiers of Sound
Spaghetti and Eightballs
Then the stage fills end to end with Bearquarium, arguably Burlington’s newest “In” band, as in, the 80’s and 90’s had Phish, and Grace Potter had her conquering era, and Rubblebucket, being slightly older, tours well beyond the Green Mountain borders. But now this eight-piece dynamo called Bearquarium has arrived for the new generation attending the various Burlington area colleges, especially UVM.
On top of their forming being timed perfectly, Bearquarium is a good-looking bunch a’ dudes. From the all ages females in the crowd I even hear, “He’s so cute,” about one of the bandmates, who I won’t mention (Tyler Mast, ahem). Since their getting together, Bearquarium has slowly played an increasing amount of shows, as well as been present, whether at festivals, other concerts, or simply at the coffee shops. This means they’ve snatched every opportunity to make connections and leave impressions. It seems they know half the audience, at least by face, as a fan or friend. When I turn around to inspect the crowd I admire how many people have come together for their Burlington Band.