Wedged between a humble mini market and one of Allston’s mom-and-pop pizzerias, the Brighton Music Hall doesn’t really look like much from the outside. Sure, the dark windows and deep red finish might suggest it’s some kind of quirky venue capable of having something cool going on inside. It’s possible that the dodgy black doors and crumbling brick exterior pique a punk-rock nostalgia for music buffs who can appreciate that sort of thing. For the average college student or local Boston resident, however, its edgy charm and miniature marquee signs go largely unnoticed as the building blends right in on Brighton Ave.
Juice doesn’t look like much from the outside, either. Stealing a quick glance at the eight guys setting up onstage, anyone who doesn’t know them might think they were plucked from the crowd and thrown together two seconds ago. Apart from acoustic guitar player and vocalist Kamau Burton, MCAS ’17, sporting the occasional flat cap or fedora, the band’s casual, laid-back look gives no indication of its infectious pop-funk fusion—its distinct vibe that throbs throughout any concert space like a life-giving pulse or a rainbow gone rogue.
Decked out in T-shirts and jeans, button-downs and khakis, the guys seem decidedly (and deceptively) ordinary to any skeptical audience member who has yet to hear the band’s music. Truth is, they’d be hard-pressed to find a local band better than Juice.
On Friday night, the Brighton Music Hall played host to a few of Boston’s most notable student music makers. William Bolton, CSOM ’16, and the guys of Juice shared the stage with Zander, a popular Boston-area hip-hop act hailing from Northeastern. Despite having scored a larger space than their usual venue in Cambridge’s Middle East Downstairs, Juice and Bolton drew a sizeable crowd that spilled well into the side rooms adjacent to the main stage.
Bathed in the bright glow of blended teal and pink spotlights, the audience waited patiently as the unmistakeable sound of Juice came to life even before the first song officially began. Three guys on guitar (Dan Moss, MCAS ’17; Michael Ricciardulli, MCAS ’17; and Rami El-Abidin, MCAS ’15) played a few warm-up riffs to get in the groove. Toward the back of the stage, Miles Clyatt, MCAS ’17, teased the audience with some improvised drum beats of his own. Stationed at the keys, Chris Vu, MCAS ’17, waited for his cue. Finally, Ben Stevens, CSOM ’17, stepped up to the mic at center stage and grinned first at Burton to his left, then at rapper/violinist Christian Rougeau, MCAS ’18, to his right.
The group’s unique sound is best described by taking a few hints from the band’s fun little moniker. Juice is a bold concoction of poppy percussion and electrifying guitar licks, with a little bit of Rougeau’s folksy violin thrown in for good measure. Juice boasts a fresh, fruity take on old-school funk. Ripe with eclectic instrumentals and Stevens’ velvety lead vocals, music fans find that Juice is really, really good. Juice just goes down smooth.
Playing a revamped and rejuvenated version of its first single “How You Gonna Do Me Like That?,”Juice had no trouble keeping the crowd engaged after Bolton’s energetic performance. Playing to a crowd composed overwhelmingly of BC students, Juice treated its audience to familiar Juice classics like the aspirational “Where I Wanna Be” and the punchy percussion in “Gold.” Never one to shy away from challenging covers, Juice slowed things down by putting its own spin on the swinging “Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment. As it often does, Juice wrapped up its set with its famous rendition of “Gold Digger,” an imaginative cover that almost puts the original to shame.
Unlike Juice’s modest “guys-next-door” getup, Bolton’s bold image identifies him immediately as something special. Confident and carefree, he bops around stage in his hibiscus-print button down. Jerking his body to the beat of his professionally-produced tracks a la Matty Healy from The 1975, Bolton’s charisma simply commands audience attention.
Almost three weeks since releasing his most recent track “Front Row,” a colorful collaboration with L.A. pop artist Jackson Breit, Bolton is still basking in the success of his new single. Though he didn’t perform the song on Friday, Bolton gave a high-powered performance of old favorites like “Summer Breeze,” “When Will I Know,” and the mesmerizingly monotone “On My Mind.” Finishing his synth-saturated set with the bouncy lyrics in “Let’s Stay Together,” Bolton set the tone for Juice’s performance with his trademark style and incomparable solo artistry.
Bolton and Juice, Juice and Bolton. Despite their evident musical discrepancies, the two BC-based acts are often mentioned as a pair, as they often play many of the same Beantown gigs one after the other. And it’s a good thing they do. When coupled together in one show, their signature styles—Bolton’s mellow and breezy beat a perfect prelude to Juice’s beachy funk—sweep their audience somewhere warm, even on some of the coldest winter nights.
On more than one occasion, Stevens thanked the audience for braving snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures just to see the show.
But what did he expect? Kids just love their Juice.
Featured Image By Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor