Lost in time
NYC reggae collective reinvents rock classics.
Easy Star All-Stars, Wheeland Brothers and Dub Architect, Thursday, June 18, Lost on Main.
Ooooh, a live reggae-dub tribute to Pink Floyd’s super-classic 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. I’ll admit right off that my initial reaction involved a raised eyebrow and what some might have interpreted as a sardonically amused, “Ha.” But as a longtime aficionado of both Pink Floyd and such dub pioneers as Augustus Pablo and Lee “Scratch” Perry, I also have to admit to being immediately intrigued by the concept.
Showing up to an empty club at 9 p.m., I worried momentarily about the attendance, but once the openers—Orange County’s Wheeland Brothers—started at about 10, people began filtering in at an accelerated rate. The band’s brand of reggae-inspired So Cal beach music, which included mellow ukulele interludes as well as bass-driven dance numbers, raised the energy level and the dance floor began to fill, foreshadowing the joyously writhing mass it would become when the late-night reggae revelers arrived.
Virginia-based DJ Dub Architect filled the short gap between the openers and the grand entrance of the Easy Star All-Stars, who brought the crowd to its feet. The New York dub-rockers began their set with an instrumental crescendo that evolved into a medley of instrumental themes from the forthcoming set before settling into the familiar bass groove of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” delivered with a slightly reggaefied rhythmic lilt. And here it’s worth mentioning that the Easy Star All-Stars are not just a Pink Floyd tribute project. In addition to penning their own reggae originals, they specialize in creating, recording and performing tributes to iconic albums—Dub Side of the Moon (released in 2003) stands alongside Radiodread (2006, a Radiohead-approved dub recreation of OK Computer), Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band (2009), and Easy Star’s Thrillah (2012)—and the current Choice Cuts Tour includes songs from all of these.
Continuing in the MJ groove, vocalist Kirsty Rock delivered a slinky interpretation of “Thriller,” embellished by the moody trombone of Buford O’Sullivan and sustained by drummer/percussionist Ivan Katz and bassist Ras Droppa’s interlocking rhythms. Then a couple of excellent originals showed off the band’s instrumental and vocal chops and swelled the population of the dance floor.
Grooving impeccably into the stony atmosphere, The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” slowed the pace and deepened the mood by morphing into “A Day in the Life,” complete with its swirling-down-the-drain instrumental break. The two Beatles tunes then mutated into an eerie, haunted-dancehall section before finally resolving into the night’s first Pink Floyd number, “Brain Damage,” with its crowd-shouted refrain of “there’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”
The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home”—as sung by Rock to a ska arrangement—brought howls of approval before a fusillade of nearly martial drumming led the band into a slow, echo-laced interpretation of MJ’s “Beat It,” emphasizing the lyrical dread of the original and adding a shimmering keyboard solo by Elenna Canlas.
“Money,” the FM hit from Dark Side, wasn’t so much reggaefied as rearranged into a horn-embellished setting for guitarist Shelton Garner Jr. to let loose with a searing solo, which set the mood for the band’s pot-celebrating reggae original, “Pass the Lighter.”
Lighters having been symbolically passed (along with a steaming vape pen or two), it was time for “Time.” And the dance-floor sensation of “kicking around on a piece of ground in [our] hometown” was heightened by the remote-controlled laser light that shimmered and shifted colors and patterns above the crowd as it rose to the mournful lament of “Us and Them” before entering the transcendental realm of “The Great Gig in the Sky,” during which Rock delivered the soaring wordless vocal part of with great abandon and soul.
With the crowd howling for more, the band returned after a short break that included a cheerfully rendered version of The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” that left the crowd with smiles on our faces as we collected our thoughts for the journey home.