John Brown’s Body, Virginia Beach, VA and Nags Head, NC- 6/20 & 6/22
Shaka’s, Virginia Beach, VA – 6/20
Kelly’s Outer Banks Restaurant and Tavern, Nags Head, NC – 6/22
One of the original American-based, nationally touring Reggae bands (first studio album, All Time, released in 1996), John Brown’s Body remains a musical family that continues to redefine itself and Reggae music. Having undergone various lineup changes through the years, the music is strong, the vocal package is uniquely JBB, and the JBB style is one that rings apart from the often muddy American Reggae scene, where bands tend to sound so much alike that one could easily interchange with another.
I was lucky enough to catch two nights of a regional leg that spent two nights in Virginia (Virginia Beach and Roanoke) and one night in the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina. My first encounter was in Virginia Beach, followed two nights later in the OBX.
One might wonder if it’s worth his/her time to catch a Reggae band repeatedly, within the same weekend. JBB’s set list varies, pulling from a deepening catalogue ( Kings and Queens was released just over one year ago), and Dub Reggae breaks (jams, if you will) add to the musical variability and interest, for those not otherwise drawn to traditionally-patterned Reggae riddims. So, it may not always be worth one’s time to see most Reggae bands on multiple nights on a tour (but for the passionate), but JBB is, again, an exceptional unit.
Centered around the band’s riddim-deep, low-end core of the drummer (Tommy Benedetti) and bassist (Nate Edgar), the JBB sound undulates within a knowledgeable range of Reggae’s roots and patterns, while marching towards a yet-undefined future for the genre. Stagnation is a great destroyer, and JBB’s willingness to let go of genre-specific restraints and plant new gardens bears fruit. The bands that will be remembered for all time are those bands that are successful (obviously), but that success must hinge upon a sound that isn’t an imitation of influences, rather something born of great influences. Many American-born Reggae bands sound (like it or not) like Sublime reborn, a Marley subgenre, or various other standardized movements that are the byproducts of musical commercialization; JBB has avoided the draw to play to the market, and their music is more mature and timeless for it.
Elliott Martin’s vocals are untouchable and ring of nobody other than Martin. Jay Spaker’s guitar work and Jon Petronzio’s keys are consistently tight while allowing for airy breaths through the unbraided Dub sessions. Consider the horn trio, and JBB is untouchable. No other Reggae band (with as much skill) pays as much respect to the collective roots of the genre while breathing healthy, fresh DNA for continued evolution.
The two nights I was able experience hit tracks from throughout the JBB catalogue. Virginia Beach was a deep, heady sort of experience, while the OBX performance seemed a more energetic set. Neither of those descriptions implies an accompanying negative, as that’s the beauty of a band that plays with emotion and in communication with its listeners. The band’s mood, the crowd’s mood, the location… many variables impact a mused artist’s/musician’s expression; what’s important is that the expression is passionate.
Song highlights from the two nights included the Dub locked “33RPM” (encore in Virginia Beach), the message-heavy “Plantation,” the slow trodding “Step Inside,” “High Grade” (Spaker on vocals), and “What We Gonna Do.” Without stumble, any JBB performance is a pretty safe bet for a way to spend one’s listening time.
Having seen and heard JBB over the decade that I’ve known of them, it’s comforting to see a spirit that’s musically fresh, creative, and relevant in the band. Relevance is such an important piece of what makes an artist impactful and satisfied, and it’s good to know that a band you love still has plenty of what it takes to keep creating worthy material and touring your way. If you love Reggae, and maybe everyone is starting to sound the same to you, check out what we have growing on the top shelf.