Up in smoke
Andrew Tosh carries on the songs of his father at the Senator
Jamaican Rastafarian music and values took center stage at the Senator Theater last Saturday night, as hundreds of reggae fans gathered for a Peter Tosh tribute headlined by his son, Andrew Tosh.
Peter Tosh, along with Marley and Bunny Wailer (Andrew’s father-in-law), co-founded the Wailers, one of the 20th century’s most influential music groups and the first Third World supergroup, in the 1960s. Tosh and Marley both died before the 1980s were out, but their songs about human rights and love for God and ganja—the two were interconnected—became fundamental to reggae culture. In 1987, politically outspoken Peter Tosh was gunned down in his home. His death inspired Andrew, now 33, to continue his father’s work.
Andrew Tosh, who for much of the 95-minute performance was enveloped in a self-induced cloud of aromatic smoke, sung his father’s songs, interacted with the Chico crowd, and even rode a unicycle during one of the encores. When he hit the stage near midnight, his tall stature and shoulder-length dreadlocks garnered him immediate respect with the voracious crowd. His smooth vocal treatments and talented accompanying musicians (former Peter Tosh backing players) earned the audience’s lasting respect. A booming bass and drum combination provided a solid foundation behind Tosh, and three-tiers of keyboards, a wonderfully toned guitar and a pair of backup singers rounded out the group.
The diverse crowd, ranging from men and women sporting decade-old dreads, campus types out for a party, or students who just liked to dance, all seemed to appreciate the renewed activity at the majestic, ornate surroundings of the Senator Theater, now in its 73rd year of operation. As most people danced in the open area in front of the stage, the reggae ensemble laid down a deep, rhythmic, trance-like groove as it churned out old favorites. The artificial on-stage smoke machine, combined with a variety of incense and other exotic fragrances, filled the room with a surreal fog, while a modest light show added to the mix.
A bespectacled Tosh began the set with the inspiring “Pick Myself Up” and later visited many of his father’s anthems, each peppered with its own extended jam. The nine-song set ended with four such classics: “Equal Rights,” “(You Got To Walk And) Don’t Look Back,” “Legalize It” (with an ad lib that “Bush should smoke it"), and the reggae remake of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” The third and final encore, “Get Up, Stand Up,” an empowering anthem the senior Tosh co-wrote with Marley, sent us out the door with a sense of optimism and hope.
Before Andrew Tosh took the stage, scintillating local jam-band favorites Electric Circus warmed up the Senator crowd. Fronted by lead guitarist/vocalist Gary Dutra, who mentioned, “Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to play here,” the five-man band supported a nice new twist—a trio of female back-up singers.
The danceable boogie band, which will host a CD release party at Mr. Lucky Saturday night, churned out offerings from its new CD, Changing Faces, including “Weekend Vacation,” “Missing You,” and the set ender, “Fire.” Electric Circus also had the crowd grooving and dancing to some favorites like “Love Ranch” and “Some of Mine.”
Opening the proceedings was Chico’s own reggae band, Dub Revolution. The eight-piece outfit, featuring a three-piece horn section, laid down slow, shuffling soul and reggae grooves as the crowd filed into the theater. And, as if three bands weren’t enough, Chico’s Soul Maze offered continuous funk and soul covers for bathroom and beer-bound patrons on the second floor.