The seven members of Grant Street Orchestra did, of course, begin on Grant Street in Portland. Guitarist Andry Babro and rapper Jeff “Mint” Griecci were roommates in the downtown neighborhood, and as a duo playing open mic nights around town, they billed themselves as the Grant Street Orchestra. A two-man orchestra, but an orchestra nonetheless. The five other members of the group — trumpet playing Geoff Zimmerman, sax and keys man Henry Redman, Charlie Sichterman on drums, Peter Eberhardt on bass and fellow rapper Jared “I-Kue” Burst — joined forces with the original duo over the course of 2009.
Three years later, they’re renowned around southern Maine as a dynamic, irresistibly funky live hip-hop band, with an LP in the bag — 2011’s “Passionately Late” — and a reputation based on their excellent live show. They’ll perform at 8 p.m. Saturday night at Zen in downtown Bangor, as part of the KahBang Arts spring showcase.
“We have always been about ‘the group’, not ‘two mc’s backed by a funk band’, working together to put on a killer live show,” said Griecci. “I think we sort of stand out and maybe even straddle a few fences in that respect from the rest of the people putting in work in the hip-hop scene.”
Maine’s hip hop scene has grown and diversified in recent years, with the success of groups like Sandbag and the Educated Advocates, and Wells-based rapper Spose. GSO fits into that spectrum — though they’re just as focused on musicianship as they are rhymes. While both rappers and guitarist Babro are self-taught, the rest of the band are all trained, professional musicians. So while they’ve got chops, they’ve also got a laid-back attitude. If there’s a Maine version of The Roots, GSO is it.
“To top it all off, we are all fairly open minded and willing to try new things. If it feels good and sounds good, we’re all pretty psyched,” said Griecci. “We manage to blend everyone’s styles and interests into our music to create something new and exiting. I think this is why we work.”
“Passionately Late” is a fun, eclectic collection of the songs the group has honed over the past few years. There’s a lot of classic hip hop in there — from A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr to, yes, the Roots — but there’s also a fair amount of jazz, funk and rock influences. The band lists everyone from Tom Waits to the Black Keys as an influence. They’ll play covers of punk bands like the Dead Kennedys, in between songs that are straight up funk.
“I usually say we are a seven piece hip hop funk rock group, that ocassionally gets jazzy,” said Griecci. “Honestly, sometimes I’m not really sure what we sound like. I have a hard time relating our sound to people. I’d like to think of us as maybe akin to the Roots or the Beastie Boys, in the sense that we all perform hip-hop based music as a full band.”
All else aside, GSO has a lock on high-energy, crowd-pleasing live hip hop — and the killer horn section doesn’t hurt, either. “Passionately Late” is available on iTunes and on Amazon, as well as at GSO’s show this Saturday in Bangor.