radiodread– BAND ON THE WALL, MANCHESTER –

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best-selling albums of all time, and it is said that at any given moment, someone, somewhere is listening to the album. The purveyors of this fact haven’t mentioned whether any of these people are under the age of fifty, but that’s by the by.

For da yout’, the reggae cover band has become somewhat de rigeur nowadays, and the phenomenon has become one of the third millenium’s firmly-established live staples. Although the trend started in earnest with Dread Zeppelin in the early nineties, there is a back catalogue of excellent reggae covers out there for the listening, dating all the way back to the genre’s origin in the sixties.

Nowadays, however, full albums of reggae covers have seen mainstream success, including Little Roy’s Battle for Seattle (a collection of Nirvana covers) as well as, most notably, the music of Easy Star All Stars, who have released four full-length tribute albums, as well as two original releases and sold over 300,000 records.

The presentation of familiar music in a reggae style has opened the genre up to a Western audience unfamiliar with Jamaican Patois, who would otherwise be put off by reggae’s impenetrable lyrics or by an associated sub-culture which can at times be hostile to outsiders and which can present violence, homophobia and the objectification of women in intimidatingly large measures. It is principally this mixed, easy-going audience who is here tonight, and looking at them, I think they’re mostly OK with the heavy cannabis use that is notable by its absence from the above list.

After the strong support act Backbeat Soundsystem, DJ Mikey Don plays a straight-up reggae set with his introductions, background about the tracks and his shout-outs haphazardly steam-rolling over the music in familiar fashion, and counting down the last moments before the main event.

It is now, incredibly, over 40 years since Dark Side of the Moon was released – and ten since Easy Star All Stars released their first album, the tribute Dub Side of the Moon. In fairness, to call it a tribute is to fail to recognise the quality of the re-imagining of the record and the teasing-out of catchy melodies and grooves from a collection of songs which is certainly not noted for the latter.

This concert is a celebration of that auspicious ten-year anniversary and (shameless plug alert) the release of a special commemorative edition. Rather surprisingly, it starts with a medley – I have to say, I don’t think I have ever been to a gig where the band has kicked off in such a fashion.

I was expecting the concert to go straight into a start-to-finish rendition of Dub Side of the Moon, but it seems I will have to wait, as the set continues with a number of songs I am not familiar with, easing us in to a jumpin track called ‘Pass the Lighter’ which ups the tempo, and brings the crowd to the boil. This is followed by a cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’, with a quick shuffling pace, and intense sub-bass.

This introduction and the infectious energy of frontman Ruff Scott definitely work their magic, making sure the crowd isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA properly warmed up for the centrepiece of the evening, which might have started a little flat, had Easy Star just thrown it out from the word go.

The heartbeat motif which repeats throughout the record brings in a deceptively finely-crafted re-working of the original album, which was at the cutting edge of recording techniques when it was released in 1973. The blend of both mundane and obscure sounds into instrumentals and segues is much easier to achieve on-the-fly, using modern technology but nonetheless, a lot of work has gone in to getting these right. The rendition of ‘On The Run’, with an a hugely powerful, super-fast, funky drum solo (which stops just short of the out-and-out drum-and-bass of the album version), and the assortment of alarm clocks which bring in Time being great examples – as well as the cheeky switch of the iconic cash registers so synonymous with the intro to Money being substituted for the repeated sound of a bong, and someone sparking up what one can only imagine is a massive dutchy.

Female vocalist Kirsty Rock’s virtuoso performance on ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ is a truly dazzling, spine-tingling moment and edges ahead of the other solo performances, which along with almost everyone taking a turn on vocals definitely prove that Easy Star are definitely all stars in their own right. My other favourite is the out-of-this world, effects-drenched trombone solo which brings in Brain Damage, which the trombonist, Buford O’Sullivan also sings. His un-polished cockney vocal jars a little with the rest of the evening’s finesse, but definitely works with the candidness of the lyrics, and serves to break down the barrier between the band and the audience, culminating in the most personal, sing-along moment of the show.

Pink Floyd’s original album is hugely atmospheric and almost without silence, and Easy Star capture this in a performance which is extremely tight and well-rehearsed but which still seems relaxed and fresh and easy-going. Reggae is actually an unexpectedly good medium for building the tension which underlies Dark Side of the Moon. The pace is slow, and the music is very rarely full-on, so here, as with a number of songs from Easy Star’s later albums, including the Michael Jackson song ‘Thriller’, the constant bassline really anchors the tune and allows it to maintain its energy through the full length of the song, without the manic king of pop to drag it through at its original relentless pace.

Dub Side of the Moon is just under 45 minutes long, so there’s a few more songs yet to come, and these are all classics: ‘With A Little Help from My Friends’, ‘Thriller’,’ ‘One Likkle Draw’ (an Easy Star original) and an encore of Lovely Rita and Karma Police, filled with audience participation as well as a good, old-fashioned show-stopper ending bring the night to a fantastic finish.

Easy Star All Stars  Official | Facebook | Twitter

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.