Max Romeo at the Jazz Cafe, London 9th April 2006
Max Romeo has only been gigging regularly over here in the last few years, but he has built up a reputation for well chosen musicians, high energy performances, and excellent vibes. After the trials and tribulations of last month's Twinkle Brothers appearance, and news of Burning Spear's pull-out from June's Brixton date, roots fans could be fairly confident that this show was a safe bet.
Trojan Sound System gave us a nice varied selection, but still found time for their perennials like Police In Helicopter and Truths and Rights. The band, in the safe hands of an affable Black Steel on guitar, featured both trumpet and sax, as well as Max's sister Jennifer on backing vocals, and Max himself was on stage as announced at 9pm.
They started slowly, but hit their stride with Melt Away, keeping it for an hour and three quarter's set (sans rewinds) featuring the old, the ancient, the relatively new, and a little in between.
While back in 2003 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the band had a full brass section and were intent on painstakingly recreating the classic hits for their sedentary audience, this sound had a dubbier, jazzier, late 80s flavour for a broader appeal.
Max's voice was excellent, and when he sang tunes from his famous War In A Babylon LP - such as I Chase The Devil and the lyrically whimsical Uptown Babies Don't Cry - it was arguably in better shape than on the original release. Unlike the South Bank gig, the PA was adequate with just enough bass.
Surprisingly, the crowd was about 75% male, and there were more mashed people stumbling around than I'd ever seen at a roots gig - I'm guessing Max's music is a popular 'come down' choice. One audience member collapsed after drawing a little too long on something or other and had to be carried out. Hopefully he was ok.
Personally, I preferred the actual performance at the South Bank, but this time both venue and vibe were vastly superior. If you like roots music, Max Romeo delivers. Catch him while you can, as he's bound to entertain.
Review by Angus Taylor