Michael Rose, of Black Uhuru fame, is one of those artists that we might call “veteran” but still brings it hard – a bit like David Hinds of Steel Pulse, or Joseph Hill of Culture, before he passed. Rose has his trademark songs, and still keeps his ear to the street.
Mastermind of songs “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “General Penitentiary, ” “I Love King Selassie,” and most recently the collab with Damian Marley, “Shoot Out,” Michael Rose comes from humble beginnings, but has a magnetic stage presence that seems to defy reason. Spiritually ordained? Perhaps. Or just plain talented. With their 1984 album Anthem, Black Uhuru won the coveted Grammy Award in the reggae category, to which Rose adopted his moniker, Michael Grammy Rose.
On February 1, 2011, Michael Rose played to a packed house at the Independent in San Francisco. Although I knew his draw, it was still pretty impressive for a Tuesday night. He wasn’t with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare whose names roll off the tongue following a Michael Rose mention, but he was performing with a formidable band – in fact, it looked strikingly like Buju Banton’s Til Shiloh band led by keyboardist Stephen “Lenky” Marsden. As many of you know, Buju Banton is still in jail for drug and gun possession (which is a story all unto itself…). Later I found out that the band was modified and regrouped as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Band. No explanation as to why they chose the gays-in-the-military catchphrase. Some things just don’t make sense.
Marsden, famous for his Diwali riddim which Sean Paul took global with “Get Busy,” looked energized and focused. Rose came with his hard hitting tunes including “Ganja Bonanza,” “Sponji Reggae, ” “I Love King Selassie,” “Chill Out,” “Shine Eye Gal,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “General Penitentiary,” “Plastic Smile” and “Party In Session.” Considering the caliber of the band, I was disappointed by the sloppiness of their performance. It seemed as if they hadn’t rehearsed much, especially with Rose at the helm. I know these musicians have the capacity to play as tightly as a maxed out rubberband, but that was not what we got. However, when Rose left the stage, and the band took on the Outro, they blew everyone away. Suddenly, minus Rose, this band was in perfect sync. Yeah, Don’t Ask.
Rose himself was in good form – certainly not the best I’ve seen him – but the man plays the same tunes day in and day out and should definitely get credit for that. When I interviewed him in 1999, he said that it was challenging to make the songs interesting each night. Add 12 years, and I’m sure they’re almost as annoying as that Six Flags theme song.
Fashion-wise, he ditched his trademark all-leather get-up for a more relaxed denim look, which I vigorously embraced. I always wondered how he didn’t die of heat stroke in all of that leather and the hot stage lights, but as reggae lore goes, he’s an unusual man – unusual in the sense of being known to eat an entire watermelon or raw onion at a time (which I have not verifiably confirmed).
Personally, I would have liked to have heard “Happiness,” “Monday Morning,” and “Short Temper,” but unfortunately he can’t read my mind, nor would he in any way want to cater to my every whim. That’s the thing with Michael Rose, I know when I see him on his next tour, there’s a great chance that I will hear many of my favorites.
The show was overall a very invigorating way to spend a Tuesday night- well worth the drive over the Bay Bridge.
The Jahworks.org photographer was ill that night, so she didn’t make it. Thinking I could use my digital camera and actually understand the many settings, I brought my camera along. The only thing that actually came out was this six minute clip.
Many thanks to Another Planet Entertainment, Michael Rose and his band, the staff at the Independent, and all of the hyped-up Michael Rose fans who made people-watching that much more fun.