(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Concert Review - Dub Skin, Easy Star All-Stars

March 15 2009, Aggie Theater (Ft. Collins CO)
I haven't been to a reggae show for a while and here was the perfect remedy. In any case, a chance to catch the Easy Star All-Stars should never be missed. As it crept past 9pm, the crowd was enthusiastic but thin. This was probably because it was Sunday night and spring break has started. Still, this filled out over the course of the opening act. By the time the Easy Star All-Stars hit the stage, the place was hopping with a decent turn out.

Dub Skin
Before the All-Stars came out, Dub Skin came out to play a set. They are based here in Ft. Collins but they've toured around a fair amount, playing with some big names in reggae, like Burning Spear and the Itals. This is a 6 piece group that plays some very competent reggae. The drummer (Yroc) is particularly good. He plays with a fair amount of rhythmic complexity without losing the basic underlying groove. Just by shifting where he's playing (e.g. moving from the snare to rimshots), he can change the feel of the section and signal the band. Sure, a lot of drummers do this, it's part of the job. But he is smoother than many I've heard.

The rest of the band is good, too: solid bass (6 string!) and bouncy keys, etc. The lead singer, Ificial, has a strong stage presence, delivering conscious raising lyrics against a roots reggae groove. Some of their music is fairly reminiscent of Burning Spear or Black Uhuru. They throw in enough samples to update the sound a little, though. They played about 8 songs, with the high point coming in the middle of the set. I'll guess the title is African. "Before the European...even before the Arabian...we were African" The crowd loved this - the steady rolling delivery built up the energy to a high pitch.

This was followed a couple of songs later by a cool trippy dub groove (lots of each, thick guitar that sounds like the Cowboy Junkies): "Revolution is real, love revolution is realer." They wrapped with a ska number that reminded me of Madness or English Beat - a real late 70's/early 80's thing.

I looked on YouTube but couldn't find much. There are only two concert outtakes, one is a decent length but bad sound. The other sounds great but is very short. Ah well.

Easy Star All-Stars
I've briefly mentioned the Easy Star All-Stars before, when I talked about cover songs. They got their start with a carefully engineered version of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. This was a dub and reggae version of the whole album and timed it out to match the original. So you can do the sync with Wizard of Oz if you want to. This was the brainchild of Lem Oppenheimer, executed by Michael Goldwasser and Victor Axelrod, who were two producers for Easy Star records. They've followed up with a cover of Radiohead's OK Computer and an original CD. Their latest is a cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which is due out soon. It's hard to believe but this is not played for a cheap laugh. It's all in fun but the music is serious and sincere. So ban all thoughts of Dread Zepplin . When you listen to these covers, they are completely natural. You'll find yourself asking, "wasn't there a little bit of a backbeat in the original Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?"

The band is a rotating group of group of musicians, so the actual cast for any gig might change, but they are all tight players and great entertainers. The energy was strong and the they got everybody dancing right from the beginning. They started off with a couple of original reggae songs, including a dance hall groove, Bed of Roses, from their EP, Until That Day. It's a big touring band, with sax, trombone, keys, drums, guitar, bass, and two singers. Except for the horns, the lineup reminded me of my old band, Cool Runnings. Especially because of the interaction between singers Kirsty Rock and Menny More: they had some of the same dynamic that Lisa and Keith had in our band. Menny (seen at left) provides a brash Jamaican DJ sound, whether he's throwing out counterpoint vocal parts, toasting, or singing soulfully. Bass player Ras Iray (you can see a glimpse of him there) has more of an R&B/Stevie Wonder sound when he sings. Kirsty (see below) has a sultry voice and delivery that hints of Sade but she can also kick in a straighter pop sound like Gwen Stefani.

After those first couple of songs, the band dove right into the new material, playing a run of songs from their upcoming Sgt. Pepper cover album. Through the course of the night, they played everything except Getting better, Good Morning Good Morning, and A Day in the Life. As I said, this all sounded so natural. My favorite moments were Shelton Garner Jr.'s trippy sitar work (via guitar synthesizer) on Within You Without You and the horns on She's Leaving Home. The dub jam on When I'm 64 was also a lot of fun.

Of course, they also played a lot of songs from Dub Side of the Moon and RadioDread. Money was energetically up tempo. Great Gig in the Sky was a chance for Kirsty to reprise her part from the album - it was good, but I think her recorded version was a little looser, which is what makes that song work both here and in the original Pink Floyd. I hadn't heard any of the Radiohead material yet (although a review will be forthcoming). From the show, my favorites here included Paranoid Android, where the horns were fundamental to the arrangement along with a smooth guitar synth. Karma Police, in the encore, was also so much fun, with Menny More giving us a taste of Jimmy Cliff.

I was quite impressed with how the band could shift gears between the different groups they covered and still maintain continuity. They did tend to play clumps of songs by the same artist but it was still intermixed quite a bit. So Paranoid Android leading to Within You Without You worked in a way I wouldn't have expected.

The night reminded me of good German Hefeweizen: crisp, bubbly, a little bit of spicy clove, and a tiny tang from the wheat. This was a great show and well worth sleeping in for the next morning.

1 comment:

  1. As a quick follow up, I've gotten both RadioDread and Sgt Peppers Lonely Dub Hearts Band. Both are great, which I'd expect from the show. The Sgt Pepper is in my heavy rotation right now. Their version of A Day in the Life is amazing.