Photo by Valerie Phillips
PJ HARVEY, THE BLACK HEART PROCESSION at the Henry Fonda Theater, August 15
Howlin bitch, orgy priestess, hot without being cute, huge without being big, PJ Harvey taps the badass arena blues and rocks flat-out all night. Meet ze Monsta announces its gonna be dirty; Its You pours out the passion; The Sky Lit Up explodes a fusillade of brain bulbs; the rising rod of 50 Ft. Queenie gets both butches and femmes buzzing. Squeezed into off-the-shoulder red, Harvey lashes her hair, whangs and slides her Firebird, wails wild while bashing a cymbal. Speak to me the language of love, she begs, and waves of echo tell you it aint the words, its the feel. The lighting, broad, varied and simple, peaks with a stark white background fronted by a dazzling glare that pops every physical feature into relief. Its some package few others attempt this combination of plot and abandon, much less pull it off.
Harvey inflicts maximum damage with the smallest of armies. Old pal Rob Ellis is a vicious drum punisher. Standing tall, Dingo pulls way down on bass. And Josh Klinghoffer truly grasps the essence of noise guitar. They interact, switch instruments, play like a band as Harvey loosely commands, at one point hugging up Dont Knock the Rock organizer Tiffany Anders for a sing-along. Its a pagan groove machine until a long-delayed encore, which teeters on the lip of chaos. Great.
San Diegos the Black Heart Procession drop a spacious, plodding, near-Floydian sound thats perfect for a live experience. Two keyboards, violin, driftheaded vocal melodies and was that a theremin? Smoke all you want, though; they just have two speeds, slow and slower, and despite the nice textures it gets boring after a while. Good setup for Harvey, anyway, who once again proved shes at least 50 feet tall.
EASY STAR ALL-STARS DUB SIDE OF THE MOON at the Knitting Factory, August 14
Translations and reinterpretations of the classics are inherently risky, whether its Beowulf or the Beatles. Stick too close to the original, and the venture veers toward pointlessness. Stray too far from the source, and the traditionalists will wallow in smug outrage. Popular musics retellings are usually confined to cover songs and tributes, but complete albums are rarely recast. When the Easy Star All-Stars released Dub Side of the Moon last year, the potential for squabbling seemed ripe until you pressed the play button. The disc revealed heretofore hidden links between Pink Floyds psychedelic masterwork and dub reggaes spacious boombasticity.
The Easy Stars dont just perform their chronic-iconic suite, they also connect it with some bong-bubbling (sub)urban folklore the mysterious synchronicities between Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz. The multiple aesthetic streams continually shift ones focus in brain-tickling and body-rocking ways the live grooves rewinding and fast-forwarding with the mnemonic original sounds, the alternative soundtrack connecting to the familiar onscreen imagery being projected.
As the MGM lion mouthed its third roar, the octet launched into Nyahbinghi-style space travel on Speak to Me and Breathe (In the Air). Reverb and delay permeated Dorothys pores, while Ras I-Rays phat bass fluffed Totos fur. Tamar-Kalis pure soprano wail floated through
The Great Gig in the Sky as the storm worsened, and Dollarmans chat over Money provided patois subtext to Munchkinland. After the main event rumbled to a close with
a duppy-conquering Brain Damage and a panoramic Eclipse, the Easy Star crew encored with a miniset of conscious roots and dancehall as Oz still rolled. While the Cowardly Lion got primped, the sound-and-vision linkages randomized, the connections apparent only to those in deep sinsemilla therapy.
STEEL PULSE at the Roxy, August 15
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Steel Pulse acknowledge that they evolved from the liberation politics of Bob Marley. Where Marley comes from a troubadour tradition, though, Steel Pulse uses intricate melodies, prerecorded samples, tightly segued medleys and rhythmic improvisation to express their brand of socially conscious, driving reggae. Nevertheless, its not surprising that Pulse started with their backup singers chanting the opening of Marleys Them Belly Full. And if anybody is heir to the Marley legacy, its Steel Pulses lead singer, David Hind.
The eight-piece band was impressively energetic and tight. Older tunes such as Rally Round the Flag, Tightrope, Taxi Driver, Ravers, Roller Skates and Chant a Psalm stood on equal footing with tunes from the politically charged new African Holocaust. No song was copied from the record, and the singing was exquisite, with the two female backup singers bringing strength to the already formidable vocals of Hind and co-founder Selwyn Brown. Lead guitarist Clifford Moonie Pusey played searing and thoughtful melodies, not fill-in riffs. The rhythm section was definitive reggae, paying just as much attention to the spaces between the notes as to the notes themselves, moving toward the fundamental beat the pulse with precision and clarity that gave the messages of peace, justice, courage and love as much relevance today as they had 20 years ago.
Singeracoustic guitarist Trevor Hall, a soulful vocalist in the tradition of Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews, opened with his three-piece backup band to play an ambitious set, with Pusey joining for an energized finale that showed the enormous potential of this emerging artist.