New York’s Easy Star All Stars have been recognised as one of the most important international reggae groups. Previous dub covers of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and ‘Ok Computer’ have gained them an impressive reputation, yet kept their identity as a band difficult to define. The tour for their most recent release, ‘Thrillah’, brought them to Nottingham on Tuesday night.
There is a confused, almost awkward, atmosphere as the crowd shuffles around waiting for the Easy Stars to appear. The audience is a mirror of the band’s strange style, from young indie-kids anticipating interesting covers to old reggae fans who seem to be sheepishly looking for remnants of the 70’s somewhere in the room. Others there are not even fans; they have been dragged along by their obsessed friends or come to watch The Skints play support and curiously stayed around after. The crowd is undoubtedly missing the sense of unity which can normally be felt before a gig and it is hard to see a party developing from it.
The band opens with their cover of Radiohead‘s ‘Electioneering’ and the warped beat encourages the audience into a slow and subtle skank motion. It is not until their more lively ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” that the dancing picks up and the audience eases more into the feel of the gig. The crowd still looks a bit confused and lacks confidence in what they are doing, but then again, how are you meant to dance to a reggae cover of Michael Jackson?
The gig’s atmosphere continues to blossom. The Easy Stars certainly go for theatrical performances. Given the size and variety of the band, members are constantly walking on and off stage; not just to play music but to dance and rally the audience. During their performance of ‘The Girl Is Mine’, Ras I Ray brings an audience member on stage, whilst him and the rest of the band fight over her. By this point the audience has really picked up a shared vibe in the gig; the selected girl confidently continues skanking whilst on stage. Depsite this, the sense of unity which has developed is hazy and unclear like the beat of the music. Ras I Ray struggles to get control of the audience when communicating with them; it’s the dub beat which is keeping them together more than hanging on the words of the performers.
This mellow, but enthusiastic, atmosphere continues for the rest of the gig. By the time the band leave stage the encore is extremely impressive; the audience seem annoyed to be awoken from the comfortable dub beat they had slipped into. After a long wait it is just Shelton Garner Jr. who walks back on; the stage seems strikingly empty. He then goes on to play the opening notes of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. The minimalism and powerfulness of his performance forms a sharp contrast to the rest of the gig. Now the crowd really are hanging on every word; all singing along whilst older members of the audience rush to the front to prove their true reggae dedication. The uniqueness of Shelton’s performance and its ability to engage with the crowd make it a definite highlight of the gig. The group then re-enters, the encore coming to a close on their cover of ‘Money’, their first hit as a band. The audience is wild by this point and the band leave to an awakened audience giving loud applause. The extremely successful encore suggests it is perhaps this variety and range within the band’s music, which attracts and unites their fans most.
…Ian has been listening to Merchandise – Become What You Are…