It’s easy to spot the person listening to their favorite song in public. They’re usually the one on the subway tapping their foot — even if it’s accidentally tapping on someone else’s — and shaking or nodding their head to the beat snaking up through the cords to their earbuds, a grin taut over their teeth ’cause a full-on smile would give too much away. They’re also frequently found in traffic, gripping their steering wheels and belting out the chorus if it just so happens to be blasting over the radio when they’re making their way down the BQE at a glacial pace. It isn’t necessarily something you have to be in on to understand: The simple, straightforward ecstasy that arrives with those first few seconds of chord progression recognition elicits a physical reaction in the listener that those unplugged in the foreground can spot from the next lane over or the seat across the train car. If you’re actively listening, people get it. They know where that smile is coming from.
At Webster Hall last night, Rudimental listened to their favorite songs in public. They just happened to be the ones performing them at the time.
Joy is a contagious thing, and for a band like Rudimental — the unapologetically positive electronic outfit straight off of East London’s Kingsland Road — it sustains them through an impressive array not only of vocal and musical acrobatics, but physical ones as well. Though the group’s nucleus is found in the quartet comprising Piers Aggit, Amir Amor, Kesi Dryden, and DJ Locksmith (a/k/a Leon Rolle), Rudimental’s touring operation expands to include three walking sets of super-lungs (backup vocalists Anne-Marie Nicholson, Bridgette Amofah, and Tom Jules), a brass blast of a horn section (trumpeter Mark Crown and sax slayers Taurean Chagar and Will Heard), and an absolute maniac of a drummer (Beanie Bhebe). From the get-go, the members of Rudimental don’t just play with each other, but play with each other, as though their infectious dance anthems were games of tag set among stacks of instruments and amps. Locksmith eggs his bandmates on, getting in the face of Nicholson or vibing off the bassline Dryden’s putting to work on his keytar. Aggit rushes the drum kit only to grab cymbals and crash them like some wind-up monkey on a bender; Bhebe, in turn, takes the towel thrown over the protective Plexiglas divider on the other side of his snare and whacks Amofah with it when she isn’t looking. Nicholson, Amofah, and Jules make their way to center stage for their various solos, attempting to teach the the horn players how to dougie in between octave-leaping swells and r&b grooves that deserve their own spotlight.
By the time they’ve reached “Free” — their so-uplifting-you-sprout-wings collaboration with Emeli Sandé that fanned the fire of their popularity following their 2013 debut, Home — Rudimental’s various players have lapped the stage, picked up and put down several instruments, and tripped over their own feet laughing all the while. They’re one of the few bands who enjoy the party they’re throwing as much as the audience before them does. Rudimental are a band that practices what they preach, and what they preach is the gospel of positive vibes.
It’s no surprise, then, that anyone who joins them onstage follows their lead — and that’s exactly what Ed Sheeran did when he shuffled out to a tsunami of ear-splitting, elated screams following “Free.” This is the guy who just weeks ago sold out Forest Hills Stadium, mind you, so Sheeran casually slinking onstage to bounce around and sing with some mates from back home isn’t such a casual thing at all. Rudimental are set to release We the Generation, their sophomore full-length, on October 2; the album boasts two tracks featuring Sheeran — “Bloodstream,” which originally appeared on his 2014 smash X, and “Lay It on Me,” We the Generation‘s next single. Sheeran sang both before the lights went up over the crowd, dancing with Locksmith all the while and thoroughly enjoying himself as Rudimental’s din carried on in its chaotic splendor behind him.
That Rudimental have yet to really explode stateside remains a mystery, as the band — no strangers to the festival circuit, with Made in America, Bonnaroo, Sasquatch!, Governors Ball, and Coachella appearances from the past two years under their collective belt — hasn’t quite reached the household-name status they’ve proven they deserve. (Home hit No. 1 on the U.K. Albums Billboard chart and cracked the Heatseekers Albums’ top ten.) In a pop music landscape where indie mainstays are trying their hand at Taylor Swift covers and one of the most sought-after singer-songwriters in the game is making a point to swing through to sing a tune or two with them, Rudimental are poised to truly break with We the Generation if they keep up their excellent output and inviting attitude.
Two of the guys were wearing their own merch onstage last night, T-shirts bearing the title of the new record. Though that kind of behavior is generally accepted as the definition of uncool (if we’re playing by Love Burger rules, anyway), it only further cements the fact that the best bands are the ones who go with their own flow, dive headfirst into their own thing, and react accordingly when the world takes notice. Like the guy smiling to himself with his headphones on across from you on the G train or the girl cracking her voice with the windows rolled up next to you on the BQE, they’re getting lost in their favorite songs. They’re just doing that under a spotlight that’s growing ever brighter.