In the Middle East Downstairs, William Bolton, CSOM ’ 16, looked on at Juice. He was leaning over the ramp to the left of the stage that separates the main floor from a rackety lounge area with a mini-bar and flat screen playing the Patriots vs. Steelers game on mute. His was head bobbing slowly but earnestly, some flicker of recognition in his eyes.
Bolton had finished his set about an hour ago—a set that culminated in Bolton classics “Passion,” “Let’s Stay Together,” and “Rockstar.” And now he (and others from the Music Guild community) looked on as Juice rocked the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge. The Middle East, one can observe, carries a familiar note to the bar that played host to some of True Detective’s second season and most notoriously Lera Lynn’s really, really sad song. Imagine that establishment. Now take out that damn song.
You can sometimes get a sense of an act’s mettle by measuring the reaction of other acts in attendance. As Bolton looked on, you could tell there was an exchange going on here.
Juice—pop-funk octet and two-time Battle of the Bands champions—came on after Kyle Thornton and the Company—a full-bodied flavor of bluesy-funk hailing from the Berklee School of Music. By the end of Thornton’s set, the chatter of the crowd—a fusion of Boston College, Boston University, and Berklee—hummed beneath Thornton’s last few songs. They needed their Juice.
Juice opened with “Gold,” the standard bearer of Juice phase two, a sound with less funk and noise than their earlier foot stomping, urban jig stuff like “How You Gonna Do Me Like That” and “Pineapple Groove.”
“Gold” starts with a piano intro from Chris Vu, MCAS ’17. It rises like a piece of architecture before Dan Moss, MCAS ’17, hops in with a slick guitar lick. When Juice is at its best, when it’s mixed just right, there’s an exchange going on on-stage between Vu, Moss, and Michael Ricciardulli, MCAS ’17, drummer Miles Clyatt, MCAS ’17, and bassist Rami El-Abidin, MCAS ’15, and then up front between violinist/rapper Christian Rougeau, MCAS ’18, Kamau Burton, MCAS ’17, on the acoustic guitar and falsetto, and lead singer Ben Stevens, CSOM ’17.
“Gold” doesn’t just have that exchange between Vu and Moss. Burton sings in the chorus, “For sure my girl can love me better / Let’s go explore your every treasure.” Stevens responds and leads pretty much everyone in “G-o-o-o-o-l-d / We all about the gold.” Rougeau comes in with a electric violin solo, in lieu of a verse or two.
While they have plenty of quality originals, Juice can really cover a song. They covered John Mayer’s “Gravity,” a vehicle for Steven’s alpha to omega vocal range. Burton was a revelation on the Commodores’ “Brick House.” And Juice is always kicking around an R&B classic. This go around it was Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” Stevens did an impeccable impersonation of Jamie Fox’s Ray Charles impersonation. It was probably the most exciting moment of the show, proof that you’re not the only one who knows every lyric to “Gold Digger.” It’s you and anyone between 20 and 30 years old.
For its encore, the band fittingly came out with Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September.” It’s a lot like a Juice song in the way it’s a celebration of fun and good vibes and the way Burton and Stevens’ voices jump in and around each other through the tune. For an added bonus, the horn section of Kyle Thornton and Company (and eventually the whole band and then much of the crowd) joined Juice on stage for the tune. Bolton was up there too.
Bolton has always seemed more ambitious than the run-of-the-mill BC musician, but in his set, he backed it up with all the required sweat. With “Bolton” emblazoned on the back of his long-sleeve tee, he has come to cut a genre all to himself. Bolton’s best tunes, his classics are full of catchy bravado and vulnerability all at once. He has always had well-produced stuff on the web. And he’s generated as much Heights print as any of his contemporaries (though Juice is catching up). But while his production is clean, clear, and catchy, his live shows have become more raw. It’s less about recreating the track and more just conveying the emotion in a live setting.
Before “September,” Juice had closed with “Where I Want to Be.” Everyone in that small Cambridge club knew it. In a brief moment of usurpation over the summer, Juice had begun to close its sets with “Gold.” This time around, the band returned “Where I Wanna to Be” to its place at the end, where it had rested and roared through most of its lifespan. “Gold” is a song about making it. At one point Stevens says, “I got 23 watches / I ain’t ever gonna sell ’em.” It’s just more confident that “Where I Wanna Be.” And, yes, in most metrics Juice has made it at BC and now the Middle East, which Juice can pack more than most acts. But “Where I Wanna Be” is in a lot ways a humble song, about the journey from where you are and where you wanna be, “a place so far away.” It’s a hopeful and ultimately relatable ending note, that says, “Yeah, we have all this, but we still want more.”
Featured Images By Arthur Bailin/ Heights Staff