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Anywhere, Anytime: Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad's bold movement 

click to enlarge An American Band in Jamaica, part I.An American Band in Jamaica, part I: An American Band in Jamaica, part I.
  • An American Band in Jamaica, part I.An American Band in Jamaica, part I: An American Band in Jamaica, part I.
An American Band in Jamaica, part I.
Taking your all-white, six-piece reggae band to Jamaica is a bold move. It certainly takes some balls. In some respects, this is akin to growing up in Norway crafting since the age of seven what you believe is an authentic and high-quality country western act, then taking your show across the Atlantic to Nashville. So, it was with a bold stride that drummer Chris O'Brian and the five other members of Rochester, New York's Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad arrived in the birthplace of reggae a little over a year ago.

"As a large reggae ensemble of Caucasians from upstate New York, we tried not to let ourselves get singled out for playing this music that has spread all over the world in a short amount of time. We don't take it heavy, we don't take it lightly, we just don't even take it when people come with their funny look on their face," O'Brian says rather assertively while driving on the Massachusetts Turn Pike on the way to what will be GPGDS' second festival appearance of the day.


That's correct - the sextet is playing two different music festivals in one day. But O'Brian says this isn't anything out of the ordinary for a band that is on pace to play almost 200 shows this year. In fact, GPGDS went on to play two more shows the day following their double festival blowout. Is this overkill? Perhaps. But this all stems from the same spirit that led the band down to Jamaica. These kids will play anywhere, anytime. They're like some bloodied boxer in a black-and-white-feel-good movie who will scrap it up under any conditions. And O'Brian says this play-anywhere attitude is where the "Guerilla" portion of their inordinately long band name becomes quite apt.

"We play crazy gigs voluntarily. We'll set up in the middle of a field and play with solar power on our own accord. We're totally down for stuff like that," says O'Brian of the band's propensity to set up at festivals whether invited or uninvited to delight the campgrounds.

At this summer's Mountain Jam, an up-state New York jam-intensive rock fest, GPGDS weren't relegated to an unauthorized performance in a field (although they nonetheless did set up guerilla style just for shits, giggles and presumably increased street cred and fan numbers) but rather delighted the festival with a set of their well-wrought and comfortingly honest reggae that gathered them some national press and innumerable pats on the back. With the band, which also features O'Brian's brother Matthew on guitar and vocals, having logged thousands of road miles in the past few years, it's natural that the Panda is getting increased notice and, as your eyes currently witnessing, more ink.

If you're tired of reggae or never liked it in the first place and don't want to hear about yet another Bend reggae show...that's fine. I should know, I've unsuccessfully forsaken reggae in all its forms on no less than five separate occasions. But there's something about reggae from upstate New York from relatively young musicians who DON'T insult us with cornball fake accents or shows front loaded with covers. GPGDS is earnestly creating roots reggae music without bastardizing their product with, again, fake accents, or dancehall tendencies. And let us not forget-they played in Jamaica for real Jamaicans. And that's ballsy, even if O'Brian does admit some apprehension.

"There were butterflies that's for sure," O'Brian says. "But all in all, the response from the Jamaicans was pretty good."

Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad: festival-tested, Jamaican-approved. What more can you ask for in your reggae?

Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Reed Thomas Lawrence
9pm doors, 10pm show. Friday, September 19. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $10/advance, $12/door. Tickets at Ranch Records and ticketswest.com.

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