Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

John Brown’s Body and the Easy Star All-Stars: The Ultimate 4/20 Experience?

What happened Wednesday night? Oh yeah, it was 4/20 (google it if you don’t know already). Seriously, though, John Brown’s Body and the Easy Star All-Stars brought a potentially mind-melting bill of cutting-edge roots reggae to an enthusiastic, sold-out, smoked-out crowd at Highline Ballroom. JBB are a band everybody takes for granted: they live on the road, play pretty much every major festival and have earned themselves a rep as one of the most reliably entertaining psychedelic acts out there. They take reggae to the next level: maybe more than any other modern reggae band, they’ve been responsible for pushing its evolution while keeping the spirit of the classic 70s Jamaican sound alive. Anyone who doesn’t know them should go to the band’s site and grab the two albums – including a delicious live collection assembled from last year’s tour – plus the assorted tracks that they’re giving away for free.

They wound their way into the set casually and methodically, Nate Edgar’s catchy basslines anchoring the bounce as drummer Tommy Bennedetti artfully worked the edges with some neat fills and cymbal hits. This band has always had a feel for dub, but they’ve bred it to a sticky purity. They don’t overdo it, breaking the songs down to a vortex of space echo for maybe a chorus at a time, not much more, before circling back to an earthy groove. One of the band’s trademarks has always been to have all kinds of fun with keyboard effects: switching effortlessly through every wah setting and woozy patch within reach, keyboardist JP Petronzio was obviously entertaining himself as much as he was the crowd. A recent track, So Aware blended Ethiopian influences with a couple of neat dub interludes, as did another one, basically a one-chord jam that pulsed along on a catchy, circling hook as the guitar and keys intertwined until any attempt to figure out who was playing what was a waste of time. It was more fun just to stand and sway as the waves of sound kept coming. A fierier, minor-key track, The Gold took a swipe at the current system, offering hope for a different, less money-oriented culture. Resonant and resolute in front of the band, singer Elliott Martin had the waves of bodies swaying along with him through the majestic, more traditional echoes of Speak of the Devil. A long instrumental section followed in the same vein, with another dub interlude, a sweet organ solo and a trick ending. The set wound up with the catchy, upbeat The Grass; the towering epic Blazing Love, trumpeter Sam Dechenne at one point playing what could have been the most interesting one-note solo ever done, blipping and blasting his way into and then out of the murky sonic kaleidoscope; and Zion Triad, a suite that took it up into the rafters much like how Burning Spear would close his shows back in the 80s.

If JBB represents everything that’s good about current-day reggae, the Easy Star All-Stars are the funniest reggae band alive. The crowd that stayed for them had really come out to make it the 4/20-est night of the year, and when the band launched into Pink Floyd’s Breathe (from the band’s first adventure in classic covers, Dub Side of the Moon), they went nuts. After about a minute of oscillating On the Run synth, when Jenny Hill substituted a bubbly jazz flute interlude for one of David Gilmour’s anguished guitar solos, it was impossible not to laugh. Which is why it’s so mystifying that this band’s devious, far-reaching sense of humor is so absent from their original stuff. They opened with a number possibly titled Don’t Give up the Music, a dead ringer for Gregory Isaacs’ Soon Come, delivered fervently by an animated, dancehall-style frontman. The reggae-pop they did afterward was competent, their bassist singing one number while firing off one tricky hook after another, but it never resonated more than it did when they finally did Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band and then an irresistible singalong of A Little Help from My Friends, everybody’s glowing coals raised high in the air. Their Radiodread stuff is arguably even more imaginative and lots of fun – and for obvious reasons doesn’t sound much like the originals. But when they brought up some guy from a reality tv show to embarrass himself in front of the band, it was time to call it a night and head to the train.

And a big shout out to Winston who was playing the subway platform in the wee hours at 14th Street. This was a late one for the veteran West Indian busker with the battered keyboard and the sweet soul voice. He’s at least fifty, possibly a lot older but he’s still here entertaining tired travelers more nights than not. He might have been the best singer of the whole night. He’s sort of a live, one-man Gil Bailey Show: mention a classic rocksteady or reggae tune from the 60s or 70s and he probably knows it. He doesn’t have a website but you can take a flyer with his number on it when you throw something in his tip bucket.

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April 24, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Shatter the Hotel – A Dub Inspired Tribute to Joe Strummer

If you’re a musician, you’ve got to be very careful if you want to cover an iconic band like the Clash. The obvious question is, why bother, since virtually all of the songs are impossible to improve on. Pretty much the only way to approach material like this is to either redo it with a completely different feel…or do it in a rub-a-dub style, mon. The new Shatter the Hotel compilation is yet further proof that just about everything sounds good if you play it as reggae. Yet it’s only logical that this album would happen eventually: the Clash were competent reggae musicians themselves, inspired equally by the music and the roots esthetic. This album is charity effort whose proceeds benefit Strummerville, set up by the Strummer estate to benefit young musicians. It’s an intoxicatingly psychedelic, smartly original dubwise collection of reinterpretations of a whole bunch of classics – Clash fans will love most of this, as will fans of oldschool conscious reggae as well.

The single most imaginative cut here is Infantry Rockers’ transformation of Rebel Waltz, a head-spinning, surf-inflected mix that takes the song straight 4/4 – in its own way, it’s as good as the original. Dubmatix‘ version of London Calling, which kicks it off, features both longtime Clash collaborator/dj Don Letts along with Dan Donovan. It’s more of a reggae-rock effort that sticks pretty close to the source except for a little toasting after the second verse (best not to try to upstage Joe Strummer when it comes to lyrics). Dub Antenna take White Riot and completely flip it, turning it into a slow groove (where you can actually understand the lyrics, which are great!). By contrast, Creation Rockers keep it short and sweet with Four Horsemen, clocking in at just under three minutes, although they take Complete Control in a completely opposite direction with equally successful  results. Nate Wize mixes equal parts electro and vintage dub on Rock the Casbah and vastly improves it – when’s the last time you heard a Clash cover that’s actually better than the original? John Brown’s Body prove themselves to be the perfect band to cover Bankrobber, adding their trademark, slippery keyboards-and-horns sound.

The deepest, bassiest dub here is Wrongtom Meets Rockers’ hydroponic instrumental of Lost in the Supermarket. DubCats do Rudie Can’t Fail in a modern, techie Jamdown pop style, while Citizen Sound’s take on One More Time starts out without adding anything til the dub effects start to kick in. O’Luge and Kornerstone’s straight-ahead roots treatment of Spanish Bombs reminds what a great song it is under any circumstance, and Danny Michel’s cover of Straight to Hell is a real eye-opener, accenting the tune’s underlying Celtic edge. The only real miss here is the cover of Know Your Rights which adds nothing to the original, which was nothing special anyway – the Clash were running on fumes by that point.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments