In many ways, I’ve been waiting to see last night’s show for a decade. As I found my way in to a dark manhattan basement, I was greeted with the experimental sounds of dub reggae that I discovered in my early teenage years, while really diving in to bands like Streetlight Manifesto and Less Than Jake.
To take just a step back: dub is kinda like reggae on acid. It’s stripped down, instrumental reggae with crazy effects on the instruments that make really trippy noises.
To be clear: this is reggae…
This is dub…
That man above, Lee “Scratch” Perry as he’s known, really helped to cultivate “dub” sound by (probably getting really, really high and) messing with reggae tracks on the soundboard. He did this in the 50s and 60s by turning the bass way up, laying some crazy reverb on the snares, eliminating vocals and being really selective of when to use guitar / piano, he curated this crazy deep type of reggae that’s largely remained in the underground.
While dubstep moved away from its reggae beginnings, there is an urge to fill the void of trippy, earthy, deep reggae music. The void was filled last night with Dub Is A Weapon, who has actually earned the respect of Lee “Scratch” Perry, the original dub-master, to the extent of him touring with the band in the US a few years back.
The instrumental six-piece absolutely flipped my mind in on itself by performing live dub music, like I’ve always wanted to see. Leader Dave Hahn flawlessly transitioned between his own guitar and playing “Scratch” by tinkering with everyone’s sound via guitar pedals and what looked to be a soundboard. The “dub engineering” provided an authentic sound that I’ve never seen in front of my eyes until last night.
The saxophone roared and squealed, snares reverberated, guitar solos hit deep and percussions banged because this mad scientist modulated island music. As a Florida kid, I’ve always been able to see solid takes on island music, but nothing this dark, nothing this deep, and frankly, nothing this good.
After laying down a strong set of their own tunes and covers from the likes of The Skatalites, Dub Is A Weapon made way for Sleepy Wonder & Geometric Echoes. This band, I kid you not, put on the other best reggae show I’ve ever seen in my life.
For the record, I’m not an easy head to please in the audience. I’m plagued by constantly critiquing music like this and often find myself lying through my teeth when friends say something along the lines of, “BRO THAT WAS THE SICKEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN” at a mediocre show. (…because no one likes a buzz kill)
But Sleepy Wonder and his crew laid down some funky reggae themselves. With a strong dub influence themselves, each member of the Geometric Echoes took their hand at freaking out their instruments. With the added element of a Moog synthesizer, these guys were producing some pretty far out sounds as well, but the smooth vocals of Sleepy Wonder would always bring it back down to earth.
The Thievery Corporation ties were prominent, as (usually naked) bassist Ashish Vyas did his signature creepy skank around the stage, and latter on the dance floor while playing the bass. “Radio Retaliation” and “Warning Shots” by Thievery Corporation were performed to ecstatic reception.
If the Sleepy Wonder & Geometric Echoes show comes near you, you must go. It was by far one of the sickest things I’ve seen in a long, long time.
If Dub Is A Weapon ever plays anywhere near you, you’ll be lucky to have the opportunity to see them.