Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Alpha Blondy at Central Park Summerstage, NYC 7/19/09

Tuesday, July 14, 2009, sometime during the night: a massive computer crash at Lucid Culture HQ cuts off all electronic communication with the outside world, eliminating any possibility of contacting the show organizers for press list to assure access.

Sunday, July 19, 6:30 AM: system finally up and running again. Drink lots of water, contemplate a last-minute attempt to find out who the organizers are and contact them, decide this would only be an exercise in futility. Do some writing, back to bed at 9:30 AM, exhausted.

1:30 PM: awake again. Time to head to the concert!

2:07 PM: no uptown trains. What to do?

2:23 PM: Finally an uptown train, running express on the local track. Thank you Jah!

3:04 PM: The rent-a-pigs at the space are only letting people in one at a time. The line of potential concertgoers extends a quarter mile beyond the arena, and the opening band hasn’t even gone on yet. People standing listlessly with their ipods and their books – a woman reads Proust. Tolstoy would make more sense – she’s going to be here awhile. Time to find a drink – a bar? After Saturday night, no way. Maybe there’s a cheap deli somewhere? Not in this neighborhood. A leisurely stroll east ends at the Duane Reade over on First Avenue and 66th St. who have big cans of lousy, sweet iced tea for a dollar.

4:06 PM: Back at the arena where Lee “Scratch” Perry has taken the stage. Have seen him before. He’s insane. He’s also a genius. He invented dub reggae, then burned down his famous Black Ark studio where he made all those classic recordings. Now in his seventies, supposedly he lives in Switzerland with a much younger wife and still tours regularly: roast fish and collie weed obviously have a sustaining power for him. He’s not that good live, muttering gnomic Rasta “reasonings” over a live band. He worships marijuana – the plant isn’t just a sacrament to him, it’s the embodiment of the deity itself.  Meanwhile, the line remains exactly where it was an hour before. Perry isn’t the insane one here, it’s the people in line! Do they really think they have a prayer of getting inside the show? The woman reading Proust is gone, maybe home to get her copy of War & Peace. Time to take a stroll down to the plaza past the arena.

4:45 PM: Perry’s band is ok. A couple of times they do a little dub, some swirling, echoey organ, some piano but mostly it’s just one long vamp after another. From down the hill, most of Perry’s vocals are inaudible and those that aren’t don’t make any sense. Not that they’d make any more sense if they were. It would be nice to be able to see something but it’s also nice to be outside under the trees with plenty of space.

5:20 PM: The line has mostly disappeared, but the place is clearly sold out. Ivory Coast reggae legend Alpha Blondy has taken the stage, barely visible from beyond the wooden fence just short of the press tent outside. He’s got a couple of women singing harmony, a horn section, a couple of guitars and keyboards. He looks resplendent in his gold robe. The sound is all highs and lows with not much midrange, screechy guitar opening the show with a long, note-for-note Zeppelin riff, bass booming, hypnotic and comforting. Just down the hill behind the back wall of the arena, people have brought their blankets, their picnics, their beer. The sound is great back here, and it’s a lot more comfortable than having to stand inside. Scratch Perry’s deity is everywhere, in the air, in peoples’ lungs, in their red eyes. Time to find a tree that hasn’t been taken, get some back support. One with the earth, yes I! Alpha Blondy plays a greatest-hits show. Despite rumors of ill health, he sounds relaxed and invigorated, at least as invigorated as one can be over such a slinky, relaxed groove. Unity is his central theme: the unity of people, religions, ethnicities and nationalities. They play the big anthem Jerusalem and later the catchy title track from his landmark 1984 album Cocody Rock, recorded with the Wailers. Alpha Blondy sings in French, his native Dioula and in English on a particularly fiery, upbeat version of Staring Straight, later a rocking version of Life Is a Sacrifice with a seemingly endless, pointless metal guitar solo and then Yitzhak Rabin, his tribute to the assassinated Israeli peace crusader. Eventually they do band intros over the chorus of Bob Marley’s The Heathen and then an actually very moving reggae version of Wish You Were Here. He takes one of Roger Waters’ most poignant lyrics – “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year/Running over the same old ground/How we found the same old fear/Wish you were here” – and makes a chorus out of them, coming back to them again and again. The old guys in classic rock tour t-shirts leaning against the wire fence sway to the bassline; the crowd of enthusiastic Ivoirians at the top of the bleachers in the back of the arena wave their flags in time with the music. Suddenly it’s 1994 again.

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July 22, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] 5:20 PM: The line has mostly disappeared, but the place is clearly sold out. Ivory Coast reggae legend Alpha Blondy has taken the stage, barely visible from beyond the wooden fence just short of the press tent outside. He’s got a couple of women singing harmony, a horn section, a couple of guitars and keyboards. He looks resplendent in his gold robe. The sound is all highs and lows with not much midrange, screechy guitar opening the show with a long, note-for-note Zeppelin riff, bass booming, hypnotic and comforting. Just down the hill behind the back wall of the arena, people have brought their blankets, their picnics, their beer. The sound is great back here, and it’s a lot more comfortable than having to stand inside. Scratch Perry’s deity is everywhere, in the air, in peoples’ lungs, in their red eyes. Time to find a tree that hasn’t been taken, get some back support. One with the earth, yes I! Alpha Blondy plays a greatest-hits show…” [Lucid Culture] […]

    Pingback by Music News, IOmusic.net » Lee Scratch Perry & Alpha Blondy @ Summerstage - pics | July 23, 2009 | Reply


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