Ras Unity, mon

There is something distinctly weird about listening to reggae music, particularly in a strip mall. The weirdness comes, at least in part, via the cultural displacement of the musical form. Hearing music so distinctly Jamaican being played by musicians who are local Sacramentans, and having that performance occur in a lounge bar next to a Taco Bell, places the listener in a moment of cultural split.

The location was the Ocean Lounge, and the band onstage—it calls itself Unity—was launching into its third number. What the band was playing was pure, traditional reggae. The band’s musicians were surprisingly adept, particularly the drummer, who played a fierce yet laid-back rhythm. The leader of the band, who goes by the name Ras Rob, played keyboards and sang in a Jamaican accent—even though he told me later he and the rest of the band are from “around here.” The trio was rounded out by a rhythm guitar player.

Though the band is good, there is something altogether silly about listening to three young men from the Sacramento outskirts playing traditional reggae. The image was, in a way, too perfect: requisite dreadlocks and do-rags, tie-dyed T-shirts of Ethiopian kings and lion insignias, and echo-soaked vocals about peace and unity under Jah’s love.

Ras Rob, in particular, comes off in person like a reggae-playing Syd Barrett. His wild, searching eyes seem to bore directly into yours. Between the requisite reggae-band parking-lot bong hits between sets, he quietly talked about Jah and Babylon and how angels are lifting him up (and the smoking helps this sensation, to be sure) and how he cured his rheumatoid arthritis through peppermint and herbal remedies. On one hand, music has provided some sense of salvation here, allowing Ras Rob to cling to some sense of forward movement and inspiration. On the other, though, the “Jamaican” act is more a novelty than anything else (at least from the audience side of the stage). The constant references to Jah and Babylon felt like such a heavy ongoing Bob Marley reference that it was difficult to take the band for anything more than a good reggae cover band.

On a positive note, though, the Ocean Lounge itself is surprisingly nice, particularly given the off-the-grid location—1310 Howe Avenue, at Hurley Way. The location has been designed with a heavy emphasis on the “lounge” feel: Upholstered chairs, red velvet curtains and purple tablecloths give it a nice, laid-back feel. I readily will admit that reviewing bands sometimes makes me expect a dive bar around every corner, and the Ocean Lounge certainly thwarted those expectations. Two notes in closing: The cover ($7) seemed a bit steep for a virtually unknown band, and the parking situation was abysmal. Do check it out, but bring your cash and ride a bicycle. Try www.theoceanlounge.com for more information, including an entertainment calendar outlining live music (although by genre rather than name) four nights a week.