By TRONE DOWD
As the sun began to set and the ocean breeze blew softly past the small Far Rockaway boardwalk bar known as Low Tide, more than 100 locals waited patiently for their hometown band to begin their set. A mix of tracks from artists—including Tame Impala, MGMT, Toro Y Moi and others influenced by the funky, psychedelic sounds of the past—crashed against the sounds of rustling mic screeches of repetitive sound checks.
As anticipation grew, the group—collectively known as Blac Rabbit—improvised over a few tracks to ensure everything was tuned just right. The band members later told the Queens Tribune that this playlist of select artists has preceded nearly all of their shows since hitting the road earlier this year, acting as an opener and giving the audience a taste of what to expect later in their performance.
As the band continued their busy work, fans and friends approached them with the same kind of warm hospitality one sees at a home baseball game. There were high fives, cheers, compliments and more. Blac Rabbit seemed appreciative of the reception, occasionally chatting up those who approached them or replying with smiles and brief conversations.
Finally, against the dimly lit fluorescent-red backdrop, the makeshift stage suddenly sprang to life. The bandmates took their places as the audience scrambled to follow suit.
In a seemingly unbothered, almost tranquil voice, lead singer Rahiem Taylor greeted the diverse crowd of millennials and baby boomers alike.
“How are you doing tonight, Far Rockaway?” Taylor asked the boisterous and excited crowd. “You always gotta remember your roots.”
And with a strum of his electric guitar, his bandmates jumped right into the first track of the night.
For Blac Rabbit, the group’s Aug. 3 show at Low Tide was a homecoming. After two short but well-attended tours on both coasts of the United States and a number of international shows, the band said that it was refreshing to play a venue that was just two blocks from their manager’s home.
On the whole, 2018 has been a hallmark year for identical twins, guitarists and lead singers Amiri and Rahiem Taylor, drummer Patrick “Sticks” Jones and bassist Josh Lugo. Founded just three years ago, Blac Rabbit had their big break after the Taylors went viral covering classic Beatles tracks on the New York City subway. The effort, which began as a way to make some extra cash in order to visit their grandmother in Puerto Rico, became a national sensation practically overnight due to the group’s spot-on impressions of Beatles frontmen John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The duo has since made media appearances nationwide, including on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and ABC and NBC news. It has also been featured in such top publications as Complex and The New York Times.
Blac Rabbit told the Queens Tribune that adjusting to life post internet fame has been less of a chore and more of a blessing.
“The biggest change has been getting booked,” Amiri said.
“And we’re making more money,” Jones laughed.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Amiri quipped and smiled. “We’re finally living off our music. Let’s say that.”
“Our skill set has been getting better too,” Jones said. “We’ve become tighter as a band after all of this. We’ve been practicing nonstop. We noticed that us as individual musicians has grown too.”
During their beachside performance, the band announced that they were working on new music and aiming to release a substantial 12-track follow-up to their 2017 self-titled EP. They gave attendees a preview of one of their new tracks, titled “Windy Cities,” which seemed to stop folks walking along the boardwalk in their tracks.
Their sound is best described as psychedelic rock, but through an optimistic and modern lens. Fans of Tame Impala would likely feel right at home instrumentally, with Jones’ melodic and excitable drum-fills and Lugo’s funky basslines accompanying the soft, laidback harmonies of the Taylors to create a combination unlike most rock music heard today.
Jones admitted that, on paper, the musical tastes of the group members seem like they would clash.
“I grew up on gospel music,” he said. “And when I started playing, I was totally into metal.”
“For me it was classic rock,” said Lugo, who occasionally plays lead guitar for the group’s original songs—and whenever the band covers the Beatles, he appears to take inspiration from virtuosos such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Slash.
The Taylors, on the other hand, said that they have always had a love for two musical eras.
“It was all our parents’ and grandparents’,” Rahiem said. “Our love for the 1980s comes from our mom, and then our love for the 1960s comes from our grandparents.”
When the Taylors and Jones initially met at a Sam Ash Open Mic, they traded off on their music interests. Later on, when Lugo joined the group, they continued to learn about new sounds, finding common ground somewhere in the middle.
“Josh with his crazy guitar solos, me with my crazy drumming, and Amiri and Rahiem with their classic throwback stuff—it just fits,” Jones said.
While all four members are originally from Brooklyn, they have lived in Queens for some time now. The Taylors said that they’ve lived in Queens for more than a decade.
“I love the Rockaways,” Rahiem said.
While Lugo and Amiri seemed to agree, Jones noted that the warmer months are definitely a standout time for the peninsula.
“The winter time, I don’t know, man,” he said to a chorus of jeers from his bandmates.
“Just write, ‘Blac Rabbit loves the Rockaways,’” Amiri said as the rest of the group and their friends laughed.
During the show, the group played an hour of their original songs for the audience. The younger crowd seemed familiar with much of the group’s catalogue, with a handful of them even singing along. The older folks in the crowd appeared less familiar with the music, yet enthralled by the sound.
“These guys are so good!” said one gray-haired woman to an elderly man.
“What’s the name of this group?” asked an older woman, who walked up to a table full of high-school–aged youths from the boardwalk.
“Blac Rabbit!” one of the boys exclaimed as he continued to nod his head to one of the group’s earliest songs, “All Good.”
After the initial hour, Blac Rabbit made a tangible transition in demeanor, and shuffled their instruments around before settling in once more.
“Do you guys want to hear some Beatles?” Raheim asked the audience to deafening approval.
In a dead ringer of Lennon’s voice, Raheim counted down to the twangy opening guitar of the Beatles’ 1965 hit “Day Tripper.” Almost immediately, the crowd began to move. People young and old made their way closer to the band and began dancing under the few remaining streetlights of an otherwise dark section of the Far Rockaway boardwalk. The infectious mood continued for another half hour as the band turned out renditions of such classics as “Eight Days a Week” and “Come Together.” The band tried once to close out the show, but were called back by an audience that wanted an encore. They acquiesced, playing “I Saw Her Standing There” to a beaming crowd.
“It was such an integrated crowd tonight,” Rahiem said. “So much diversity, especially with age groups. There were little kids here. I like performing at less-formal venues because it’s cool to see little kids dancing around, riding their bikes and scooters back and forth. It was like an amusement park.”
As much as they loved being back home, the band members said they would soon be on the road.
“We were invited to play Beatles Fest in Guatemala,” Jones said. “That’s set for this Friday.”
“Then we’re off to the West Coast for a show in Los Angeles and a couple of shows in San Diego,” Amiri chimed in.
When asked about their favorite city to play, they struggled to narrow down their list, but ultimately decided on Chicago; Toronto; San Francisco, Washington, D.C.; and, of course, New York City.
“Do you want to do a top-18 favorite cities we played in?” Amiri joked.
Members of Far Rockaway’s Blac Rabbit appear happy to commit themselves to their craft. And if the reception they received playing their hometown is any indication, this year is clearly a sign of bigger and better things to come.
Blac Rabbit told the Queens Tribune that the band is on all social media platforms, but Instagram is the best way to follow the group for updates on upcoming projects and shows.
The Band @blacrabbitband