Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad Links Kingston to Buffalo

With the bustling, vibrant music scene which Buffalo has remarkably fostered, there are often many places a music lover can find solace on an active Saturday night. Despite the many options, it seems many WNY music lovers knew the place to be on Saturday, September 30 was in Buffalo at The Tralf Music Hall to catch a nearly sold out performance by Rochester’s own reggae powerhouse Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (GPGDS).

Attendants were in great spirits as they frolicked through the doors and found a place to put their recently located jackets and sweatshirts on Buffalo’s first truly chilly Autumn night. The festivities began right on time with Hip-Hop Duo Level 7 Experience acting as the night’s MC and performing on the floor in front of the stage to better engage with the audience while the bands set up.

The crowd was loose and ready to dance once Level 7 Experience finished their first set and the opening band, Thunder Body, took the stage. The multi-instrumental, Rochester-local Dub group took no time to get started as they performed a bouncing set, spanning multiple genres. Jumping from reggae to ska to outward psychedelia, the well-rehearsed band did an excellent job using their horn section, percussionists, and theremin to create a very distinct sound of their own. It seemed as though they could play all night and everyone would have been okay with it, but unfortunately time was not on their side and they had to leave room for the main course.

After a well-earned standing ovation, Level 7 Experience took to the floor once again to entertain the crowd while the stage was set for GPGDS. Now that people were a bit more liquored up and frisky, the duo played to the room and performed more call and response songs than their first set. By the time they finished their last number and thanked the crowd, GPGDS took the stage leaving almost no time between performances.

As the band took the stage, the screen behind them featured a homage to the city by displaying the Bill’s logo with the buffalo replaced by a panda. It quickly became clear that this was a reoccurring symbol as many people in the crowd wore shirts with the logo, indicating how invested and committed the reggae band’s fanbase was in the area.

A long, slow drum segment started out the set, leading to an explosion of funk and reggae with bass player James Searl and drummer Chris O’Brian holding down the low end while guitarist Dylan Savage played a scratchy rhythm to get the crowd grooving. After the long intro, O’Brian mixed things up by playing a Latino-inspired beat prompting Searl to holler a Marley-inspired rap with quick, impressive alliteration. Following a breakdown and nailed composed ending, the band slowed things down and segued perfectly into a slower reggae number.

The light, minimalist reggae tune transformed the Tralf from a dark, oddly shaped room to a refreshing summer day just relaxing by the pond. Reggae fans experienced exactly what they came for as keyboardist Tony Gallicchio sprinkled light-hearted fills throughout the tune while the rest of the band kept things easy. From there they shifted the tempo once again to a faster reggae number which allowed guitarist Dan Keller to showcase his musical expertise by taking the quick reggae tune to space, infusing his love of reggae with that of psychedelia.

One of the most impressive aspects of GPGDS is their ability to jump from song to song without any stopping and constructing their setlist to feel seamless. They controlled the energy in the room throughout the night with few breaks in the music and making the show feel like a sound wave; going up and down as they played songs with varying tempos one after another.

Each member of the band was proficient at what they played and took turns on lead vocals. Throughout the night the band excelled at giving the crowd a genuine reggae performance while at the same time incorporating different genres to establish a sound of their own. By welcoming guest spots from the previous acts, there was never a dull moment throughout the show as you could not predict what was coming next.

Had you told me I would be walking out of this show and entering the humid streets of Kingston, I might have believed you after that performance. It is clear why GPGDS has such a strong following among reggae fans, and they can truly do justice to a genre of music that so many bands tend to butcher.

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