Good vibes, good start

Two great bands mark the grand opening of the new Student Union Center

ROOTS VIBRATION <br>Cecil “Skeleton” Spense, although crippled by polio, led an energetic regae set from Israel Vibrations during the grand opening of the new Student Union center.

Cecil “Skeleton” Spense, although crippled by polio, led an energetic regae set from Israel Vibrations during the grand opening of the new Student Union center.

photo by Tom Angel

Grand Opening Celebration, Israel Vibration, B-Side Players, Student Union Center, BMU, Friday, Sept. 7

Chico State’s BMU Auditorium has been christened. And Friday night’s gig, featuring seminal reggae roots group Israel Vibration and Latin-influenced B-Side Players, climaxed the hall’s grand opening.

The free show drew a crowd that easily surpassed the hall’s 999-person capacity, evidenced by a couple hundred people who milled around outside, unable to score a suddenly-precious wristband.

Though it’s a big, boxy multipurpose room built to host lectures and speakers as well as music, the auditorium more than holds its own when turned into a concert hall. The money spent on sound and lights, $625,000, according to BMU Auditorium Facilities Manager Dwight Frey, has a lot to do with it.

The BMU Auditorium actually opened Aug. 29, with an appearance by New Orleans funksters Galactic. That show, due to a bug in the air conditioning system, got so hot that the fire alarm sounded in the middle of the show.

At Friday’s show, the air conditioning worked fine. The B-Side Players, a seven-piece combo from San Diego, came out first, using their multinational melting pot of musical influences to turn the packed house into a dance hall. They’ve come a long way since their first Chico gig four years ago, when they played to about 40 people in the campus Free Speech Area.

Fronted by singer/trumpet player Karlos Paez, who alternated between Spanish and English vocals, the B-Side Players relied on a three-piece rhythm section—drummer, bongo player and percussionist—to set the pace.

A dynamic lead guitar and bass added a rocking layer of sound, and Paez’s trumpet, along with Reagan Branch’s saxophone, filled out the band.

The B-Side Players are impossible to pigeonhole into one genre. Many songs in their 90-minute set chugged along with a powerful rock-reggae beat, with an added salsa flavor and a touch of brass. Imagine a mix of Los Lobos, Santana and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, to give you a general idea. And once in a groove, the B-Side players got the crowd off several times with grand jams of psychedelic fusion. Songs included “Movement,” the title track from the band’s new album, set for release this week, as well as “Puro Feeling” and “Soldier.” They ended their set with Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” and encored with the blues classic “Rock Me Baby.”

After a set-break, the evening turned into a reggae-fest, thanks to veteran act Israel Vibration, which is touring in support of its current release, Dub Combo. The supporting band laid down a more than credible solid roots groove through two instrumentals. But the crowd reacted gleefully when the two front men, singers Cecil “Skeleton” Spense and Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin, finally took the stage. Stricken by childhood polio, the duo, who became first acquainted at a Kingston, Jamaica, rehabilitation clinic, don’t let handicaps hold them back. In fact, if there were an award for Most Creative Use of Crutches, these guys would win hands down, twirling and rocking and grooving all over the stage.

Performing as Israel Vibration since the mid-1970s, the Rastafarian singers, who overcame poverty as well as illness, are known for their deeply devotional songs and militant cultural themes. Though the beats and melodies varied moderately from song to song, the set was all straight-ahead, old-school reggae. Israel Vibration’s songs included "Jailhouse Rocking," "Thank God It’s Friday, TGIF" and "Babylon by Bus," which offered "Teach your children—black, brown and white. So when they grow up, they love and unite."