Rx Bandits at Scottsdale's Ultimate Block Party Last Night

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Rx Bandits Scottsdale's Ultimate Block Party December 31, 2011

When Matt Embree, Steve Choi, and the other members of SoCal ska-punk reggae-rock band Rx Bandits signed up to headline Scottsdale's Ultimate Block Party New Year's Eve some months ago, they probably thought it to be a smart idea at the time.

"Dude, the rest of the country is going to be colder than a polar bears ass on New Year's Eve," they likely said, "But Phoenix will probably downright toasty."

Too bad Mother Nature had different ideas. Namely, plunging the mercury into the 30s (or colder) during what was arguably one of the Valley's most brutal cold snaps of all time. It's what likely what kept a good chunk of revelers away from attending the annual outdoor New Year's Eve affair (the crowd was about half as big as 2009's party, by my estimates) and made for some chilly working conditions for the bands that were scheduled to play the event.

Rx Bandits, Unskinny Bop, and the other musicians toughed it out, however, keeping those in attendance distracted from the freezing temps with their reggae-rock stylings. They hit the stage shortly before the midnight countdown, getting a long-winded introduction from Tom Anderson (promoter of the party and owner of Upper Deck Sports Grill) who thanked everyone for coming out and plugged a few of the event's sponsors.

Embree riffed on Anderson's introduction to a small degree between songs at one point, stating that the band "wasn't down with all that corporate sponsorship stuff." Maybe not, but one thing they are down with is offering the usual sort of blandish white boy reggae that every teenage guitarist crafts in their mind after listening to Bob Marley's Legend for the hundredth time.

That's not to say that the Rx Bandits suck, mind you, it's just that they took the latter of two possible routes for a ska bands usual take: either go poppy (like the Aquabats, No Doubt, and Reel Big Fish) or go for the more reggae sound (or as much of a reggae sound as one can provide when you haven't been born in the Caribbean or aren't of Jamaican descent).

But this was Scottsdale, where the standard clubgoers or music fan doesn't care about all that and just wants to mellow out or rock out to the standard reggae riffs and eat up the whole "one love" twaddle that is spewed out over the microphone. Rx Bandits served much of this type of thing with aplomb during their hour-long set, taking few between-song breaks and just dishing out the tunes. As they sucked down plastic cups of draft beer and swayed to the beats (or imbibed a few hits of the ganja I smelled often), the crowd seemed energetic and lively during their performance despite the weather.

Frankly, I was more into the performance by opening act - and local Poison tribute act - Unskinny Bop (who you might recognize from their appearance in last year's Hot Tub Time Machine). Maybe its because I was raised in a podunk mining town where it seemed like every IROC-Z in town was blasting Look What the Cat Dragged In over its stereo, but I got into the energy of Unskinny's cover of "Talk Dirty to Me" and "I Want Action" more than warmed over reggae.

Or maybe the cold just got to me.

Critics Notebook:

Last Night: Rx Bandits and Unskinny Bop at Scottsdale's Ultimate Block Party.

Personal Bias: I wasn't too impressed with Rx Bandits when I first heard them in my 20s, back when they were known as The Pharmaceutical Bandits.

The Crowd: It run the gamut from 20somethings and college kids to middle-aged couples.

Overheard: "I'm gonna have the illest year ever," one frat-looking dude exclaimed.

Random Detail: I helped at least two people get to their feet after they fell while rocking out.

One More Thing: An impromptu dance-off was staged on the other end of the party near the DJ area, as a few cats and kittens busted a move while hip-hop and electro tracks were played.

Random Notebook Dump: Hope no one slips on either the spilled beer or the puddles of puke that were littering the ground.

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