CHICAGO, July 15, 2001 – Jamaican music lovers attending the Steel Pulse/Toots & the Maytals show at House of Blues on Saturday July 14 were taken on an exotic journey through ska, rocksteady and reggae, with even a brief excursion into jungle territory.
Headliner Steel Pulse greeted the awaiting massive with a brief tour of a few of the group’s hits via a short medley. The group then launched into the full fledged one hour and 40 minute trip, which included wicked versions of James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” as well as “Islands Unite,” “Taxi Driver” and “Reggae Music.”
Other stops included a particularly bass heavy “Back to My Roots” and “Ku Klux Klan,” which mutated into the high voltage drum and bass “KKK in the Jungle.” As demonstrated by the dancehall revelers, the only way to travel through the jungle is by jumping.
The set also included three songs from the True Democracy LP (“Rally Round,” “Chant a Psalm” and “Blues Dance Raid”) and five from the Earth Crisis LP (“Roller Skates,” “Earth Crisis,” “Tightrope,” “Throne of Gold” and the enthusiastically received “Steppin’ Out”).
A rarity in reggae music today in that the band is a self contained unit, Steel Pulse has had some personnel changes over the years since its inception in the UK in 1975, but the core of the group – lead singer David Hinds, keyboardist/vocalist Selwyn Brown and drummer/percussionist Steve “Grizzly” Nesbitt – remains intact. The five newer members of the group have meshed seamlessly with the original trio.
Hinds established a friendly rapport with the locals. Saying he had spent the day sightseeing, Hinds compared Chicago to New York City and Washington, D.C. “For any of you who haven’t been to New York or Washington, D.C., you aren’t missing a damn thing,” Hinds joked.
Steel Pulse’s always solid live performances featuring tight grooves, cultural lyrics, elements of dub and interesting lighting effects are why the unit maintains its status as one of the top international reggae bands.
Kicking off the musical voyage with a 90 minute set, opening act Frederick “Toots” Hibbert and the Maytals revisited several of their ska and reggae classics spanning from the 1960’s through the early 1980’s.
Accompanied by two female harmony singers and a five piece band, which included the original Maytals rhythm section of Jackie Jackson on bass and Paul Douglas on drums, the 55-year-old Toots performed with the energy of a man half his age.
Show highlights included “Louie Louie,” “Get Up Stand Up,” “Time Tough,” “Bam Bam,” and “Pressure Drop.” At one point during ska classic “Sweet and Dandy,” Toots asked the Maytals for a “150 mile an hour” tempo, and upon receiving it, he blazed out vocals at equal speed.
Toots also performed “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Although originally penned and sung by John Denver, Toots’ cut released on 1974’s In the Dark LP has since become the definitive version.
Donned in a black jacket adorned with red, yellow and green stripes and matching pants, the dapper Toots often crooned and posed for the young ladies in the house. During “Monkey Man,” Toots invited several females from the front rows to join him onstage. The stage was quickly overrun with about 40 college aged fans who poured onto the stage to join the smiling, dancing Toots. After the stage was cleared of nonmusicians, Toots concluded his set with a roaring version of “54-46 Was My Number.”
Blessed with one of Jamaica’s most soulful voices, Toots could have easily have had a career just as successful in the R&B genre as he has enjoyed in the ska and reggae fields. His James Brown-esque moves combined with his sweet voice make Toots a reliable entertainer.
Perhaps the most fitting song of the evening for the veteran singer was the epic eight minute version of “Never Get Weary.” Indeed, Toots has never gotten weary.