Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at email@example.com.
What up! The Beat is back for the 0-6, and the jumpoff was at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, where Barrington Levy and The Expendables set it off proper like.
Sunday night in Santa Cruz brought the unlikeliest of pairings: SC-bred ska-punks The Expendables and Reggae legend Barrington Levy. Whereas The Expendables bring the ruckus with thrashing melodies and mood swing-ish-transitions, Levy comes off like the definitive veteran reggae showman, complete with stern delivery and butter-smooth vocals.
Still, the juxtaposition was seamless, and both acts revved the crowd's collective engine with a burst of showmanship and big finishes.
I got to the show about four songs into the Expendable's set. A buddy of mine said the show kicked off with the Eek-a-Mouse slumper "Ganja Smuggling." Off the bat, their sound was a mixture of surf-reggae and punk that was similar to 311 (I don't know if the band would appreciate that comparison).
The crowd was a funky mix of skater and moto-cross looking scenesters, countered by a flood of brown-faced rastas in all variety of red, gold and green apparel. They were live enough, if a little bit thin. I wasn't too familiar with the band's music, so I didn't get to keep track of the song names. That's always a drawback when you're trying to do a review, but oh well.
The lead singer, who looked like a young Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi, was a true rock-star-in-training. During one crucial moment, he asked the crowd if they liked weed and, after a quiet murmur in response, declared "This song is about weed." The faithful cheered mightily and, as if on cue, large plumes of smoke filtered the perimeter. I moved to the back to avoid a contact buzz (I was on the clock, after all).
This band has the pull to headline the Catalyst on their own, but seem more suited to open for bands of their ilk, like Slightly Stoopid or Bad Brains (both of whom they have opened or will open for in the future).
They have a bit of a So-Cal vibe, but stick to their SC roots with a lot of thrashing punk that is segued by these light, floating riffs. The last time I saw these guys, they did a mostly punk set at a small dive in Prunedale called Jim Dandy's (which served as a tow-truck company when it wasn't converted into an all-ages music venue. it's now condemned).
This show was decidedly different from the last one I saw, until the very end.
That's when the lead singer started pumping his fist and raising his guitar to the rock gods, just like he was trained. Then the band, as if possessed, spun into a throbbing whirlwind of monster riffs and head banging. The pit, which was pretty lax most of the night, erupted. Devil's signs were thrown in the air. Quite an exciting, big finish.
After an all-to-brief cigarette break, Barrington Levy came out and the crowd seemed to double in size.
Dressed in a modest white t-shirt, sensible blue jeans and Timberland boots, Levy wasted no time getting the crowd in his mighty grip. He rolled into a signature tune, "Under Mi Sensei," three songs in.
Levy had the whole crowd screaming "Yo-OHH" for about three minutes, which would set off a theme of call and response. His opening bit was 15-minutes of uninterrupted reggae bliss, inciting the crowd to sing along to his "Shiddy-Biddily-Diddily-Whao" choruses, like a mixture of Cab Calloway and Ned Flanders from the Simpsons.
The crowd, which was passively obedient most of the night, sached along, not missing a beat. Even the guitarist got in on the action, echoing Levy's baritoned choruses riff for riff on his axe. It was an impressive display of interaction that had the whole crowd in awe.
Levy's popular songs got everyone going, although you might have to be a bit of a fanboy to know the hits. "Collie Weed," "Murderer," and especially "Black Roses" got the cholas from Watsonville in the back of the club up on their feet.
His one top-20 song, "Bad Boys," is actually just him singing a chorus. The song, recorded by former Bad Boy rapper Shyne, sounded refreshing live, more organic and sinister than the recorded version. Levy managed to turn a four-bar chorus into five minutes of funk.
The highlight of the night occurred during his encore. After a stirring-rendition of his hit "Here I Come," Levy lowered the boom with the Bob Marley standard "Roadblock." Now, anytime a reggae artist attempts a Marley cover, it's hit or miss. But Levy had the pedigree and, more importantly, the chops to claim it as his own.
The song rocked even harder than anything played all night. And given the seeming disparity in the two acts on the bill, it was the ultimate big finish.