Toots and the Maytals
with special guests
July 17, 2010
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
This sold out triple bill showcasing roots reggae featured not one, but three tremendous groups, each very much in their element before a reggae loving, Saturday night crowd in the Barbican Hall.
Vintage, versatile band, The Upsetters, who’ve made classic recordings with Max Romeo (who sadly cancelled his appearance here) and Lee Scratch Perry, were truly great from the outset, throwing their sunny Jamaican spell out, over the audience like a warming net. Superb singing from their front man and back up from three similarly bearded Rastafarian artists was complimented by a steadily thumping, collective heart beat from the other members of their ten piece band, consisting of sax, trumpet, drums, guitars, keyboard and bass, with horns and strings adding emphasis, while drums kept a clip clop and keyboard underscored the group’s driving sound. ‘Garden of Life’ was only one example of roots rock reggae supreme the band played with mini standing ovations erupting after each and every number. ‘Forever Young’ provided more classic moments. As concerts go, this eventful show had more punters bobbing in their seats from the outset than any other in memory, indicative of both the renown of The Upsetters as well as the enduring popularity of reggae itself.
Participants of the underground punk and post punk eras have fond memories of rocking steadily to an ever intriguing mix of what might be seen in this neo-post punk era as ‘art rock’ (for lack of a better term) and relentlessly rhythmic ska & reggae. The fact that young enthusiasts outnumbered oldsters in this crowd by three to one bodes very well for the future appreciation of roots reggae.
That said, nothing could have prepared me for the strutting arrival of veteran groovester Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, against a backdrop of seemingly, flaming curtains, with the man himself donned in rainbow hi-tops, sparkly baseball cap and jacket, stone washed jeans, glittering rings and heaps of dub reggae attitude! At the age of seventy - four Perry has the genre more than sussed, being one of its grandmasters, and those hurrying out to grab yet another lager while his far ranging voice warmed itself into its legendary grooves missed half the fun of getting there. ‘I’m gonna love you,’ Perry sang, clasping the hand of a blonde down front, saying in an aside to her partner, ‘Don’t be jealous.’ Truly in a class by himself, given his unique persona, Perry could be seen as the ‘Sun Ra’ of reggae. At one point, Perry, whose accent I struggled to understand, spoke of ‘computers’ holding one multi-coloured foot aloft growling, ‘my shoe’s a computer,’ as if to indicate the infernal machines are everywhere, which they are. Though, during this concert the stage was refreshingly, laptop free, as every moment of it was made the old fashioned way – by hand, and soul, from Perry’s gravely singing through The Congos’ (who’ve recorded with both him and Max Romeo) deeply textured backup. By the end of Perry’s set, ‘Roast Fish and Cornbread’ (1977) included, we were all well and truly caught - so much so that by his encore, the audience was loudly pleading with him not to stop.
There are many reasons to enjoy the Barbican Hall – in addition to its quality sound, its’ ample aisles provide plenty of dance space, which in this case, served as dancehall space while the marvellous band, The Upsetters, legendary Lee Scratch Perry, with The Congos and the mighty Toots and the Maytals hammered out an endless stream of irresistibly infectious reggae, and in Toots case, also ska songs thumping out of tall onstage amp stacks in true dub fashion. Not even the overly zealous veteran usher on the right side of the hall, known for tapping the shoulder of anyone daring to dance on her turf, could stem the grooving tide once Toots and his group appeared, throwing their ska classic ‘Pressure Drop’ at us with all the force of a warming blast designed to thaw even the most timid movers and shakers among us. Toots, doubtless, one of the master mojo motivators of all time, relished this enthusiastic response, citing that it was his ‘first time here’, intermittently holding his mic out to the crowd to follow his lead on hit after hit. Revivalist sounding ’54-46’ found Toots’ voice reminiscent of Otis Reading on his classic vocal work out on ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, albeit in Toots’ own inimitable, laid-back style. Having said that, Toots, in shining white sleeveless suit and trademark black headband, speeded up the ending of every song, gleefully challenging his audience to sing and dance faster and faster in order to keep pace. The joyously bouncy response to their, incredibly, definitive version of ‘Louie, Louie,’ a song that’s been done by nearly everyone, including Iggy Pop, was a moment to remember, with everybody from Gramps to possibly, great grandchildren dancing along. There is more than a hint of funk in Toots and the Maytals musical mix and their ‘60’s and 70’s originated grooves are peppered with plenty of hot and sweaty licks with Toot’s JB footwork adding emphasis. Backup singers, musicians and Toots, sweat glistening on his muscular arms and face by the end, smiled through the set - Toots often touching fists and shaking hands with fans down front. In this case, it’s definitely true to say that a great time was had by all!
No matter if the length of this glorious triple bill allowed for extended Saturday night concert drinking, the all age crowd responded with appreciation - cheering, clapping and singing along as they danced. As The Upsetters, Lee Scratch Perry and his band and Toots and company all seem ageless and have given us timeless music, we can only hope to be deeply infected by their infectiousness ourselves! As the venerable Lee Scratch Perry stated, dancing as he did so, ‘music keeps you young,’ together with ‘exercise’, no doubt, preferably on a dance floor which will doubtless be wherever you are whenever you hear any of these musicians’ seminal roots reggae.
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