Legends of Roots @ The Brixton Academy, London on Sunday 18th June 2006
Despite an impressive line-up featuring the best of roots past, present and future – and despite that indescribable feeling you get from listening to live reggae music in the summer – I had some reservations about this night. One was the well publicised but unfortunate withdrawal of Burning Spear from the bill – increasingly one of reggae’s most consistent and dependable live performers. Another was the venue itself.
Whether due to the PA, the acoustics, or a combination of the two, The Brixton Academy has a cavernous sound, with much of the definition of the music getting lost in the muddy soup. But what it lacks in sound clarity it certainly makes up for in atmosphere, and there was a pleasant vibe about the place and the crowd.
The Abyssinians played a blinding show at the Mean Fiddler in March last year, and while the Rasites are a good backing band they could not reach the heights of Nambo Robinson's ensemble at that unforgettable but woefully under-attended night. That said, those trademark close harmonies are always remarkable to hear and there was some nice fretwork by Rasites’ guitarist to fill in the gaps left by the absence of real horns.
Culture’s live performances - while enduringly popular - have been less impressive as the years have gone by. I’m not one of these cantankerous purists who want every tune to sound like it did on record – far from it – but these days many of their classic hits come out sounding more like I’ve downloaded the polyphonic ringtone instead of the song.
Tonight’s show was an improvement, partly due to their superior choice of songs (although I’d love them to play last year’s killer Policeman some time) and thanks, in the main, to the charismatic Joseph Hill - whose sinewy grace gives him a magnetic presence on stage. By the time they left the crowd was baying for more.
Next we had Andrew Tosh’s enjoyably vaudevillian tribute to the hits of his father. With his similar voice he was like a cheerier version of his Dad - entering and exiting the stage by unicycle. His short set – more of an extended medley – was wisely timed as such a nostalgia based act could easily have outstayed its welcome.
The sweltering heat and the gradual bulking up of the crowd meant the sweat was pouring when Luciano finally came to close the show. He sang many of his best – the highlight being a predictably thumping Who Could It Be - and his reputation as a superb and athletic showman remained intact.
All in all, another solid event from BJ Productions with no major organisational mishaps. For me the shadow of Burning Spear loomed large over proceedings (as did the perennial question of whether factoring the salaries of a full horn section into the overheads wouldn’t be too much to ask) but it was a well attended show and an enjoyable way to spend a sultry Sunday night.
Review by Angus Taylor