Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Upsetter

concert review: Lee 'Scratch' Perry @ Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, Ontario), June 30, 2008

Lee 'Scratch' Perry @ Harbourfront (June 30, 2008)
Lee Scratch Perry @ Harbourfront: photo by Michael Ligon

It seems like all of Toronto was out at Harbourfront yesterday evening to see a free show by legendary Jamaican dub reggae master Lee 'Scratch' Perry. It's possible that the large crowd was partially due to it being a holiday(Canada Day) the next day but I'm sure a large contingent was there to see a legendary reggae artist who is perhaps second only to Bob Marley in name recognition(well, maybe to North American music fans). It was a mixed crowd overall which seemed to feature a high percentage of younger people. In my own personal music listening upbringing, I'd come to him indirectly through his influence in particular on Bristol trip-hop group Massive Attack - that dub reggae influence of deep bass lines, echoey, reverberating guitar and spittering drum patterns. Spacey stuff.

In a surprising turn, Mr. Perry's band was comprised of a group young gentleman, three caucasian guys and one asian guy. They started out with an extended instrumental dub reggae groove before Mr. Perry finally strolled onto the stage to the throngs of applause and cheers. Dressed in baggy hip hop garb seemingly inspired by current colourful hip hop fashions, he had what seemed like smoking joints sticking out of his baseball cap and he pulled a wheeled carry-on luggage with him(I'm not sure why he had it though.) During the hour plus set, it alternated between extended dub reggae excursions and lighter, poppy reggae tunes, with Mr. Perry keeping things in check with his casual, laid-back vocals. I overheard someone standing near me say the band sucked which I don't agree with, but the young band did feel like an overarching attempt to reach out to a younger audience. That concern aside, I was more disappointed with the pace of set and the overall feel of the experience. Songs seemed to go on for longer than I hoped to the point one song almost blended into the next. Mr. Perry did make attempts to reach out to the audience, by getting us to clap or chant lyrics, but those attempts seemed few and far between in my opinion. At the end of the show, I had this nagging feeling of, "and that's it?". Perhaps I'm in the minority with my (slight) disappointment with the show - circumstances of high expectations not materializing. But if the throngs of applause and cheers at the end of the show was any indication (it was so loud and persistent that we couldn't even hear the MC's closing remarks - and we didn't end up getting an encore), I was probably in the minority with my (slight) disappointment.

Photos from the show over at my Flickr.

More coverage of the show over at The Pop Vine.

Eye Weekly profiles Mr. Perry as he launches another phase in his career with a worldwide tour, a new album and a documentary. The documentary on him entitled "The Upsetter: The Music and Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry" will screen during Harbourfront's Beats, Breaks and Culture festival, first on Saturday July 5 at 2:30 pm, then on Sunday July 6 at 5:00 pm. Both showings are at Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West).

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