The Greyboy Allstars and Toots and the Maytals, Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver- 4/19
Relentless groove descended upon Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on Thursday, April 19th. The double billing of The Greyboy Allstars and Toots and the Maytals promised true pioneers of Acid Jazz and Reggae, respectively, but when the hooks gave way to jam sections, both groups delivered the funk.
The Greyboy Allstars rocked Vancouver last year on their reunion tour, so expectations were high among those who came early enough to make their 9:15 start. This five-piece super group plays danceable jazz to the extreme. They perfected the genre, but then injected it with so much feeling that the authenticity of the music outshines its flawlessness.
Saxophonist Karl Denson only needed to blow one note to make the crowd move. He’s a master musician, whose phrasing and passion exude style and swing. He’s busy on stage, with his flute, saxophones, and a table full of percussion instruments surrounding him. His flute playing cuts through the funk, evoking mystery and suspense. He’s a very engaging front man, who chatted with the crowd about hockey and even asked what the word “Canuck” means. Later on he said that he’d be dancing front row for Toots, but I didn’t see him.
Denson only sang once, and the spotlight fell on guitarist Elgin Park several times as he sang new songs from the Allstars’ new album, What Happened to Television?, their first studio album in ten years. His vocals were good, but Park stole the show with his spot-on guitar playing, effortlessly weaving through linear jazz solos and furious sixteenth-note rhythms. An excellent guitarist, Park is also a composer and has scored several movies, including Donnie Darko.
Toots and the Maytals took the stage after a reasonable break. Legendary among the originators of reggae, the band offered a soulful combination of good songs and beautiful singing. They made a huge impact on reggae in the 70s with songs like “54-46 Was My Number” and “Sweet and Dandy,” both of which were played Thursday night.
Now, the Maytals are a chill, road-tested band that uses reggae as a launching pad for funk and soul jams. They played a few modern-sounding originals before singer and bandleader Toots Hibbert came out and pumped up the crowd. Toots held the microphone far from his mouth for much of the time, and then during the choruses or when he wanted to call something out to the audience, he pulled it forward and his voice became full and large in the sound mix. He broke many songs down to call and response, including the appropriate “Reggae Got Soul.” While his band seemed almost disengaged at times, Toots didn’t slow down at all until the show ended at 1:30. He frequently reached into the crowd to give high-fives and knock fists, danced during jam sections, and even played a few acoustic guitar solos. Of course, during the long set he played most of his significant songs, although “Pressure Drop” was conspicuously absent. “Country Roads” became a huge sing-along, with the crowd unfortunately singing “West Virginia” in place of Toots’ “Jamaica.”
All in all it was a great show. As a collective unit, the Greyboy Allstars may well be a better band, and it’s a shame that they had the opening (and shorter) set, but Toots deserves his legendary status and every bit of success he’s had.