Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Itals at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 8/9/07

“This is the power of reggae music,” announced lead singer Keith Porter. What he meant wasn’t clear. Maybe it was that the troupe of restless daycamp kids who had taken over the middle of the park were behaving themselves surprisingly well, or that the sprinkling of West Indian toddlers with their grandmothers remained practically silent for the duration of the concert. Maybe that was the power of reggae music. Or the power of residual THC in Jamaican breast milk. Ital is vital, yeah mon.

It’s easy to make jokes about reggae. Too easy, for that matter. Even if the Itals’ keyboardist was using a small handful of tinny settings straight from the synthesizer factory floor, circa 1983, or that whenever Porter addressed the audience, he couldn’t maintain a train of thought for more than about half a sentence, it was impossible not to sway and bounce to this band. Their day in the Jamaican sun came and went a long time ago – it was 1986, said Porter, that their hit Rasta Philosophy was nominated for a Grammy (it didn’t win). “Before there was BET, or MTV,” Porter emphasized, and he was right in a sense. The corporate entertainment-industrial complex hadn’t completely penetrated Jamaica at that point, just at the time the rapidfire deliveries of dancehall were pushing conscious roots reggae acts – the Itals among them – into the background. But they were enjoying considerably popularity on the college circuit here, one of the practically innumerable bunch of good Jamaican vocal trios with roots in the 60s, and lucky enough to find an audience among young people here when the youth of Jamaica were more interested in pursuing their own homegrown version of gangsta rap.

Typically an opening act for more famous reggae artists, with the demise or disappearance of most of their contemporaries the Itals seem to have finally hit center stage. They played as if they’d come to claim their territory, mixing major and minor keys effortlessly. The rhythm section was skintight throughout their long, practically two-hour set; their guitarist took only one solo, but it was a good one, flashing some flamenco chops as opposed to the metal that all too frequently rears its drooling head from time to time in what’s left of roots reggae. Porter’s cajoling tenor can be a dead ringer for legendary loverman Gregory Isaacs, and his two harmony singers (notably a young woman named Kayla) nailed everything, pitch-perfect, all the way through. This is hard music to sing: you can’t just hang out all verse long and then come in on the chorus.

They bookended a bunch of romantic songs – including a nice new one called Mind Over Matter – with more conscious material including Rastafari Chariot from their 1981 debut album Brutal Out Deh, widely considered to be their high point. Midway through the show, a middleaged man walked up to Porter and asked him sing his first hit, the 1967 Westmorelites tune Hitey Titey, and he obliged with a few bars while the drummer tried to play along. But it was clear the band didn’t know the song. The afternoon’s silliest moment (there are invariably plenty of these at a reggae show) saw the band seguing into a Tony Orlando and Dawn song from 1975 for a few bars. In front of the stage, a small, stout, elderly woman in a Bahamas t-shirt, swaying and waving a Jamaican flag kept giving the flag to Porter, who kept trading it off with her throughout the show. She was finally rewarded for her enthusiasm with a free cd. Beaming, she led another fan over to the roped-off area behind the stage, where they were sternly sent away by one of the roadies. The massive that turned out in full force for Burning Spear’s show here a few years ago was conspicuously absent, and the mostly West Indian, blue-collar Brooklyn Heights lunch-hour crowd seemed pretty sleepy. Which shouldn’t come as any surprise, considering the previous day’s subway flood and tornado hell. This was the last of the summer’s weekly Thursday noontime shows here that the Brooklyn Academy of Music puts together, a thoroughly irie way to play hooky from work and enjoy the unseasonably cool breezes beneath the trees. Jah give to I and I a respite!

August 9, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: The James Cotton Band at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 7/26/07

Although James Cotton is their drawing card, he doesn’t sing or even talk to the audience. But his band is killer. No surprise, considering that Cotton’s main axeman in the 70s was none other than Matt “Guitar” Murphy of Animal House and Blues Brothers fame. This afternoon, the portly ex-Muddy Waters blues harpist took a seat in front of his four-piece backing unit, almost at the edge of the stage, beyond the shadow cast by the fabric of the tent overhead. From the amount of sweat pouring from his brow, it was clear that this was not the most comfortable place he could have been. Considering the early hour of the show (for an old bluesman, at least) and the oppressive humidity, it wouldn’t be fair to blame him for basically phoning it in. Playing mostly chromatic harp, he proved that he still has the earthy, sometimes showy chops that got him the gig with Muddy, but he didn’t do much of anything else. Today was the band’s turn to kick ass.

Singer/lead guitarist Slam Allen, who’s essentially their frontman, is star in his own right, a brilliant player, excellent singer and quite the showman. From his first rapidly precise excursion up the fretboard, it was clear that the heat didn’t bother him in the least. He played soulfully and often spectacularly fast throughout the band’s roughly 45-minute set, literally channeling B.B. King at times, especially on their two King covers, Let the Good Times Roll and How Blue Can You Get. Rhythm player Tom Holland, on the other hand, played like somebody had pulled him out of bed, consistently biting off more than he could chew whether he was soloing with a slide or launching into some frenetic chord-chopping. He clearly has the chops to do it: it’s a safe bet to say that if this had been late in the evening at some crowded blues joint, he would have pulled it off. The rhythm section gave the songs swing and bounce; their only misstep was letting bassist Charles Mack take an excruciatingly long, wanky, finger-poppin’ solo during one of the earlier numbers. It’s nice to see a veteran of a rapidly vanishing genre getting good paying gigs like this one– probably far more lucrative than anything he ever did with Muddy – at this stage of his career.

An old-timey band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, opened the show with a brief, barely half-hour set. While the musicians, particularly the fiddle player, proved adept at old acoustic country blues, they need to find somebody who can sing. Or they should just do instrumentals, which would be fine.

Outdoor NYC parks shows like this one are a great way to see some fairly important figures in the history of music, for free, with absolutely no hassles. Another fairly important band from an entirely different genre, 70s roots reggae vets the Itals play here on August 9 at noon, definitely worth seeing if that’s your thing.

July 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment