Arts, Music, On Campus

Jeb Bush Orchestra Gets Funky On Air With WZBC

Do you ever just want to feel like you’re extremely in college? Do you know a lot about Mountain Dew flavors? Do you think Gob was the better Bluth brother? (Frankly, people don’t talk about the Bush family undercurrents of Arrested Development enough.) If you answered yes to any of these questions, Jeb Bush Orchestra, a band that is neither Jeb Bush nor an orchestra, just might be the band for you.

Josh Artman, the host of WZBC’s The Hitchhiker’s Audioguide and MCAS ’19, welcomed the Allston-based funk band to campus for an interview and performance during his radio show on April 25. Sharing mics in the crammed soundbooth of the WZBC office, Jeb Bush Orchestra bantered with Artman about topics ranging from its desire to be sponsored by Sprite to Jeb Bush’s tweet about the band back in April of last year.

During the interview, which preceded a 70-minute set that felt as though it took place in the space of just 10, bassist Luke Bergamini described Jeb Bush Orchestra’s sound as “dance music for people who have heard jazz a couple of times.”

Despite being a funk band, the group’s sound shimmies with a distinct improvisational fluidity typical of jazz music. Just when you’ve gotten to the main riff of any given Jeb Bush Orchestra song and you think you know where it’s going next, you’re pleasantly surprised to see the four-piece band veer off into another direction with an ease that is indicative of its formidable skill.

Even so, a knowledge of jazz—or even funk, for that matter—is not necessary to appreciate Jeb Bush Orchestra’s talent. The energy of the band’s performance style is just as engaging for the jazzless proletariat. Guitarist Grant Bloom described the band as aiming to “reject the pretensions of modern music” in its music, but non-lyrical jazz-infused funk music is bound to be considered at least somewhat elitist by the average music listener—which is not a bad thing.

Time dissolved into the poster-covered walls when Jeb Bush Orchestra thrust the room and the WZBC listeners into a funkadelic world of bass-driven beats and sparse lyrical musings. After its first song, “Big In Japan,” one member called out “Hey, wanna do ‘Malibu?’” before murmurs of agreement affirmed the song choice to follow. Natural chemistry was evident in the band’s performance of “Malibu,” which started with the band throwing itself into the song as if the setlist had been formally agreed on hours ago.

Bloom introduced “Randers,” an unreleased single that follows the band’s recently released EP Compact Disco, by giving an impromptu explanation of the song’s structure and warning listeners not to confuse the song with “Dandy Randy,” which the group had played earlier in the set.   

Jeb Bush Orchestra is an orchestra in the sense that no one instrument obviously overpowers the sound on any given song—Ben Hammer’s whirlwind keyboarding took center stage at the beginning of “Headband,” but Bloom’s acidic electric guitar riff didn’t trail far behind. Again, Hammer’s organ keyboarding led off in “Spooky Joe” later in the set, but it was drummer Willis Edmundson who would carry the beat into its seamless transition from a down-tempo, breathy beat to a hi-hat tapping drum part. Gelling the sounds of different instruments is essential for songs that don’t have lyrics to distract the listener, and Jeb Bush Orchestra seemed to have mastered that principle for its WZBC set.

Jeb Bush Orchestra is essentially a walking contradiction: It’s an apolitical band named after a politician. It longs to be a corporate sell-out (re: Sprite), but its mission is to escape the mainstream. Its overall vibe is one of an unapologetically “college band,” but its technical skills exhibit wisdom far beyond the members’ 20-something years. You shouldn’t get too caught up in any of this though—when playing, Jeb Bush Orchestra commands listeners to stop thinking and just dance.

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff

April 27, 2019