Friday, March 31, 2006

Steel Pulse Live in Santa Cruz

Steel Pulse's Thursday night show in Santa Cruz was too short.

I'm not talking about the Oakland rapper. I'm talking about the fact that they were on for maybe an hour and a half, tops, and though they managed to make it a strong hour and a half, a legendary band such as theirs simply can't run through their extensive catalogue with that type of time constraint.

And I'm not complaining at all about their performance. These legends have the tools to take any reggae fan to school. And their following is so strong that everyone in the crowd seemed to sing along to every selection.

And for full disclosure, I did get to the show a bit late, and caught them right before they got into one of my all-time favorite songs, "Blues Dance Raid." So I missed them playing "Steppin' Out," (which, judging from past performances I've seen, is usually their opening number), "Your House," and the ultimate loss, "Worth His Weight in Gold."

Yes, I could kick myself, but for all I know, they might not have even played those songs.

Still, the chance to see Steel Pulse is always one worth taking. Hearing the familiar tune of a song as beautiful as "Ravers," with it's nonsensical lyrics (Whoops, upside ya head... Boogie to ze music..."), takes me back to when I first discovered reggae music as a wanna-be cholo at Alisal High School. Freshman year, when I fell in love with the irie rhythms that haunt me to this day oh so right.

And watching the band perform so effortlessly was just as inspiring. The lead singer had a dread so thick, it hung on his back like a sling of arrows. I swear, that thing was so lumbering that dude could have claimed it as a dependent on his taxes.

The aging keyboardist was just as cool, too. With streaks of grey in his shaggy beard, he still rocked a camouflage outfit and matching baseball cap, which covered a doo-rag. I asked my girl if I could be so cool as to pull off that look in my mid-50s. She said yes, but I think she was just being nice, because I know I'm not that cool.

And even though I may have missed some of my favorites (or maybe not) I still got to hear classics like "Chant a Psalm," which was performed semi-acoustic. The slower pace and timbale drums took the crowd to church, and I testified right along with them.

And the band got their politico on as well. Addressing the recent protests in response to harsh immigration reform across the nation, the lead singer challenged the government's definition of an "Illegal Immigrant."

"If that's the case, the entire damn population of America is illegal," he said. "Except the Native Americans..."

They ended the show with "Roller Skates," which was the song that introduced me to them as a youngster. And then they were gone before 11 p.m. And that one old reggae music promoter whose been at every single reggae concert I've ever been to in my life did everything but apologize to the crowd for the abrupt departure. Even the band looked somewhat confused about the short exit, but the rumor around the building was that the music had to be cut off at 11 p.m., per some sort of city ordinance.

Now, I know that performers always want to leave their audiences wanting more. But when the groove is that solid, it's almost a crime to cut it off so quickly. Life is too short to have to endure such disappointment.

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