John Brown’s Body and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad: Live at Common Grounds in Gainesville, FL on February 18, 2010

Just before Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad began their set at Common Grounds in Gainesville, Florida, frontman James Searl implored the bar’s patrons to move up and get closer to the sound. A few people listened, but the bulk of folk lingered at the back of the room by the bar.

This all changed quickly.

GPGDS began their set, and the room suddenly exploded to life. Searl’s coaxing didn’t bring the crowd to the front, but the group’s smooth reggae groove did.  Not only did the audience move forward, but  in the span of 3 songs, the bar which was relatively empty became packed. Everywhere in the room people were dancing and swaying to the music.

Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (established in Rochester, New York in 2004) are no strangers to the stage, and such was evident in the tight-knit set. From opening song “Future” to the closing jam “Change You,” the show was liquid, laughing and head-nodding. The band is currently on tour in support of their latest release, the appropriately titled live album Live Up!.

The four-piece put on an energetic and compelling live set and if you were to listen to their new, 11-track live album it would be an accurate portrayal of their live sound as the group is near perfect in their performance. Not only is their stage presence impeccable but their music is entrancing and instantaneously takes you away to a calm place that makes it impossible not to relax and forget the troubles of the day.

As openers, however, GPGDS were soon wrapping up their short (but incredibly enjoyable) set. Still, there seemed to be a spark in the room that was not there before. The fire had been set.

The heat from Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s opening ceremony did nothing but magnify during headliners John Brown’s Body, who capitalized on the vibes and blazed. The eight-piece beast  of a band dominated the stage, complete with a three-piece horn section, making for a wondrous sound that filled all nooks and crannies of Common Grounds.

The entire band was straight-up joyful on their mount, leading to a feeling of good will that seemed to reverberate throughout the room. Lead vocalist Elliot Martin has a magic charisma about him, and he makes it his business to guarantee that his energy is super-contagious. Indeed, all in attendance were dancing, swaying and bobbing up and down right alongside the figurative head of John Brown’s Body.

The band played all the favorites, including a few tracks from Amplify and Re-Amplify. An unexpected highlight was a cover of The Clash’s song “Bankrobber,” which got an amazing reaction from the crowd. Martin remarked that the group had been a huge influence to him while growing up in the 80’s.

The crowd seemed rabid for as much music from JBB as they could get. Via audience request, the octet followed The Clash cover with an impromptu performance of “New Blood.”  And it was no surprise that after a hefty 12 song set from John Brown’s Body was just seconds done, all kinds of clapping, yelling and begging for the encore erupted in an instant.

Obliging the reggae-ravenous din, the band came back out under the lights of  the Common Grounds stage for a two song encore, including “Be At Peace” and “33 RPM.” It was a phenomenal ending to an anomalous evening.

– Emily Smith


One response to “John Brown’s Body and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad: Live at Common Grounds in Gainesville, FL on February 18, 2010

  1. Man! We were lucky enough to play with the JBB guys last year … their live show is insane!

    Thanks for writing up the show, it’s great to hear what they’ve been up to,

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