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iLa Mawana and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad Rock On in Mass Harbor | July 2011

Photography by Sam Balling

Rock On in Mass Harbor

Mass Bay Harbor is struck with a cold spell as the line to step aboard the Rock On! jam cruise waited at the end of the ramp to where the ferry sat alongside other ferries and some large, colonial-looking sailing vessels. The bay is reached through a large archway and two massive buildings, and next to a massive drawbridge and old buildings of old Boston crumbling, the scenery is beautiful, a blend of grandiosity and dilapidation.

iLa Mawana stand just off the boat in a half circle, like greeters, relaxed and just happy to be there. The band’s original singer, Gianpaolo Blower, recently moved, having to give up the role of frontman to guest vocalist Ryan Nava, fitting in with the band of easygoers. This being their hometown, the cruise is one of the shortest commutes they’ve had to a show. With the lush colors of city and sea, it was clear iLa Mawana has pride for their city, and in many ways their music represents this exact moment in Boston’s seasonal glory.

Dan Keller | Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad | Rock On in Mass Harbor

Meanwhile, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, also with a new member, Dan Keller, load their gear on board. Dan’s a fellow Rochester, NY musician, guitarist, and vocalist. The boat is two levels tall, so they have to haul their gear upstairs. On the ground floor is a bar with hot dogs for sale (not good but perfect in their staleness), and it’s where the merch table is set up, near a staircase that leads to the upper deck, just behind Aaron Lipp’s Hammond B3 organ. The main access to the upper deck is in the middle of the boat. There’s a bar upstairs too, but no hot dogs.

Despite the cold, the atmosphere is excellent. The sun is slowly setting and Boston’s lights generate the grid of yellows and oranges near the horizon. The crowd is made up of iLa Mawana or Giant Panda fanatics. The bar opens and the line to it immediately stretches across the deck. Before the bands start, as the boat is leaving port, the event feels like a private party, a concise group of fans standing around talking music with the musicians themselves, cocktails in hand, and soon the crowd feels familiar, friendly.

iLa Mawana | Rock On in Mass Harbor

The boat heads out into the bay and iLa Mawana get “on stage”; it’s really just the back of the boat, but behind them the sunset is wonderful. iLa Mawana’s songs are rich with Otherworldly and carefree imagery, and by the time they play “Soldiers of Sound”, with its roving bass, the spell is cast. iLa Mawana are loose, enjoying themselves immensely on stage, with banter and Ryan making kind comments to the crowd. They perform “Dub Electa” into “Karamland”, as the songs are connected on the band’s EP, only the songs here seem looser, fleshed out. The sound is great, well-mixed and there’s not a lot of wind coming across the water.

However, a jolting set of waves sends the boat rocking so much that everyone tips. Guitarist Dave Rosen’s wah pedal slides from beneath his foot and any loose chords and cups roll. At one point some of the more mobile band members pick up percussion and head into the crowd to dance. The crowd is where people gather to keep warm. Out front, the chill of the night is biting, somewhat refreshing, but inside, as the moon, hanging low, drifts just above the horizon, and as iLa Mawana finish with a great “Mortal Motion”, it’s already been a great night.


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