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Concert Review: Rx Bandits
by Ryan Felder

"When I'm on my death bed, I'll think of these three nights," said Matt Embree to the crowd near the end of the show. The people who attended them will never forget them, either. Progressive ska band Rx Bandits played three shows at NYC's Gramercy theater back-to-back-to-back. These shows were special because they were album shows; they played their 2003 album The Resignation on Thursday (3/25), their 2006 record ....And The Battle Begun on Friday (3/26), and their most recent album, 2009's Mandala on Saturday (3/27). I was lucky enough to see Mandala. 

There were two opening acts to the show. The first was Zechs Marquise. Unfortunately, the train made me late to the show so I missed their set, but I have seen them open for Rx Bandits before, and can say with confidence that they are awesome. With their jammed out, groovy take on math rock, one can get lost in their driving rhythm section. After them, The Builders and the Butchers took the stage. This band surprised me. They are a five piece, with two drummers, a bass player, a guitarist/singer, and a banjo/mandolin player. Their songs had a simple, folksy feel to them, the kind of sound that is easy to get into. Halfway through the set, they began to trade instruments; the bass player took up the drums, one of the drummers played keys, and the other drummer picked up the mandolin. Certainly not what I was expecting. 

After that, the Bandits' crew began to prepare the stage for their set. The crowd was buzzing with energy from the get-go; many people in the audience had already been to one or two of the other shows. I could hardly contain my excitement. Eventually, after almost 45 minutes of waiting, the stage went black and the Bandits came out to wild enthusiasm. With a simple intro, the group proceeded to tear into their first track, "My Lonesome Only Friend." From here, the show took off and never came down. A highlight of the Mandala show was the fifth song of the set, "Mientra La Veo Sonar." It is a beautiful song with precise yet understated guitar work. This version was concluded with a lengthy jam which saw guitarist Matt Embree trade his guitar for the drum circle in the middle of the stage. It was a perfect ending to such a pretty song. Another highlight of the set was "White Lies." Here, Embree played keys and guitarist/keys player Steve Choi sat down at the drums to churn out  a fantastic rendition of what is probably the most unique track on the record. Throughout all of this, drummer Chris Tsagakis and bassist Joe Troy held down an unbelievably solid rhythm section, allowing the songs to really take on great power and capture the audience. 

After the band's fantastic performance of Mandala, they came back out onstage for their encore set, three fan-favorites: "Overcome," "To Our Unborn Daughters," and "Only For The Night." The last two songs took over 20 minutes in total, filled with jams whose incredible power cannot be even hinted at through words. It was a very emotional show for the band, and it really showed in their playing. They left it all out on the stage, and I consider myself lucky to have been able to witness it.