Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Steel Pulse at Rockefeller Park, NYC 7/16/08

[Editor’s note: the author of this review was still seething over how disrespectfully police and security had treated an all-black crowd at an O’Jays concert in Crown Heights, Brooklyn the previous night, therefore the the angry tone and occasional profanity here.]

 

There is no need for overwhelming security at outdoor concerts in New York. End of story.

 

The Steel Pulse concert at Rockefeller Park tonight and the O’Jays show in Crown Heights Monday night were a study in contrasts. To any racist who would insinuate something to the effect of “the reason why we need ironclad security at Wingate Field is because it’s a bad neighborhood:” FUCK YOU. The crowd at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City tonight was a quintessentially New York, beautifully multi-racial and multi-generational mix, probably about half-black. And just as at Wingate Field, there were no fights. There was a lot more weed-smoking tonight, and half the crowd was drinking – OMIGOD, THERE WERE PEOPLE DRINKING ALCOHOL, DECLARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY AND CALL OUT THE NATIONAL GUARD!!! But unlike at Wingate Field, this park is on the water, with innumerable exits available: if necessary the crowd could have dispersed in thirty seconds flat, rather than being forced to leave single-file through one single barbwire fence exit. Emphatic verdict: New Yorkers do not go to concerts to cause trouble. Repeat: THERE IS NO NEED FOR OVERWHELMING SECURITY AT ANY CONCERT ANYWHERE IN NEW YORK, EVER. EVER. EVER.

 

Sure, it never hurts to have a couple of big guys on hand to usher out the occasional drunk who’s had enough and can’t stop hitting on the women or otherwise causing trouble. But the all-black crowd Monday night in the middle of the ghetto in Crown Heights was just as lethargic and overwhelmed by the heat as the crowd at Steel Pulse tonight in the middle of yuppieville.

 

If you don’t already know them, Steel Pulse were the best of the many excellent British reggae bands of the 70s. Contemporaries of the Clash and Bob Marley, they distinguished themselves with their remarkable tunefulness as well as their penchant for relevant, spot-on social commentary. Their songwriting was remarkably complex, utilizing a lot of jazz chords, a far cry from the typically gnomic Rasta “reasoning” set to interminable two-chord jams that dominated a lot of classic-era reggae (although, if you’re, um, in the mood, all that can be great fun). Despite the fact that the band hit the stage at about 7:40 PM, most of the windows in the luxury highrises above were dark: the yuppies who live there are obviously all working overtime and unable to enjoy treats such as this. Their loss.

 

Steel Pulse are celebrating thirty years on the road and despite that managed to turn in a passionate, powerful set, even though most of it simply amounted to running through a lot of hits. They went on to a sarcastic intro of the Star Spangled Banner before launching into their own flag ballad, Rally Round (“Rally round the red, black, gold and green,” i.e. the colors of Africa). On the next tune, frontman David Hinds stopped it short, a typical move roots reggae bands use to energize the crowd: “Mi na waan stop-and-start, but,” he looked around,” Black holocaust still here.” If only he could have been in Crown Heights Monday night. Then he and the band launched back into No More Weapons, an anti-chemical warfare song echoing the Peter Tosh classic No Nuclear War. The sound system had been acting up, resulting in Hinds’ vocals being inaudible for the first half of Bodyguard, a ruthlessly deadly rejoinder to anyone who would safeguard the life of a fascist.

 

Reaffirming the band’s continuing relevance, they continued with a new song, the propulsive Door of No Return, about a visit to the infamous Ghanian prison where slaves were thrown in chains into slave ships. They closed the set with the big Rasta hit Stepping Out, but returned for a long encore that basically served as a second set. A medley of their classic hits came first: the fiery Soldiers, the defiant Taxi Driver (about how hard it is for a black man to catch a cab in New York City), and Blues Dance Raid, about getting an illegal concert shut down by the police. They kept the crowd bouncing with a remarkably raw, heartfelt version of Earth Crisis and then a tongue-in-cheek new cautionary tale, Global Warning, followed by the wry Babylon Makes the Rules. Steel Pulse are known for marathon sets, but at this point they played one final number and called it a night. It dread in dis year Babylon, but Jah (and Steel Pulse) give to I and I spiritual nourishment. And no guns. And no security.

 

Think about that for a minute. Remember – in a police state, everyone is a criminal.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lucky Dube: An Appreciation

It came as a shock to us to learn that international roots reggae star Lucky Dube had been murdered in an attempted carjacking in Rossetenville, South Africa this past October 19, leaving behind seven children including one born just this year. Dube was 43. Born to a woman who had been told she could not conceive – hence the name Lucky – Dube would release five mbaqanga albums in Zulu before turning to reggae, where he would find a vision and create a body of work that would reach pantheonic proportions. It could be said that he was the king of African reggae, although he would undoubtedly scoff at that title. Dube was a pure embodiment of the roots reggae esthetic, a champion of the underdog, passionate supporter of democracy worldwide and crusader for equal rights for people of all races. He did not merely pay lip service to these ideals: he lived them and breathed them through his music, all 22 albums recorded in Zulu, English and even one (a platinum-selling ep of satirical songs) in Afrikaans. While roots reggae, as played with a traditional band including bass, drums, guitars and keyboards, may be a rapidly dying genre, Dube remained faithful to it all the way through his final cd, Respect, issued earlier this year. While he did not play on his recordings, Dube was also an outstanding keyboardist particularly adept at the organ, something his fans would discover at live shows (his 1990 album Captured Live remains one of the best reggae albums and also one of the best live concert albums ever made). His heartfelt, sometimes anguished, Peter Tosh-influenced vocals and magisterial stage presence made him one of reggae’s most dynamic performers. Although Dube didn’t speak English until he was 18, his lyrics are terse and often even poetic, a mix of fiery political broadsides, social commentary and longing, spiritual meditations.

Considering that Dube was hardly materialistic and deplored violence, it is cruelly ironic that he would die murdered by a stranger attempting to steal his car. In his best song, Victims, Dube offers a poignant and insightful look at the effects of random violence through the eyes of a grieving woman:

Dear lord, she was crying until now
As she turned to move her head
She said boy oh boy it brings tears to my eyes
I said why

She said boy it brings tears to my eyes
Bob Marley said, how long shall they kill our brothers while we stand aside and look?
Little did he know that eventually the enemy will stand aside and look
While we kill our own brothers
Knowing that already they are the victims of the situation

Still licking wounds from brutality
Still licking wounds from humiliation
She said these words as the wrinkles on her face
Became perfect traces of the tears of a race
We are the victims everytime

We got double trouble everytime
She took me outside in the churchyard
Showed me graves on the ground
And she said, there lies a man who fought for equality
There lies a boy who died in his tracks

Can all these heroes die in vain while we sit back and kill our own
Knowing already that they are the victims of the situation
Still licking wounds from humiliation
We are the victims everytime
We got double trouble everytime

Lucky Dube was an artist we’d planned on featuring here for sometime. It’s tragic that we were never be able to do anything on this great songwriter and performer while he was alive.

November 27, 2007 Posted by | Music, obituary, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment