Review | Photos | SOJA | New York City

Images by: Mark Dershowitz
Words by: Chadbyrne Dickens

SOJA :: 05.17.13 :: Webster Hall :: New York, NY

The first names one conjures up when thinking about reggae music are Bob Marley, Peter Tosh , Jimmy Cliff and maybe Steel Pulse . However, those acts all harken back to a distant era. For some time, reggae fans have been hungry for new blood to be infused into the scene. Thankfully, SOJA have arrived and they continue to dominate the genre.

For over two hours on Friday, May 17, the reggae rebels, consisting of Jacob Hemphill (lead vocals, guitar), Bobby Lee (bass), Ryan Berty (drums), Kenny Bongos (percussion), Patrick O'Shea (keyboards), Hellman Escorcia (saxophone), Rafael Rodriguez (trumpet) and Trevor Young (lead guitar) brought a ramped-up raucous of rhythms and style to a nearly sold-out faithful crowd at New York City’s historic Webster Hall.

With the opening chords of "Mentality", the crowd erupted in delight and answered back with loud adulation each time they were lit up by the beaming white overhead lights. With the triple-headed dreadlocked dragon (Hemphill, Lee and Young) out stage front leading the way, the band then segued into the title track from their latest album release, 2012's "Strength to Survive." They plan to delve into the studio later this year to record a new album. The band's members are somewhat stagnant on stage with the glaring exception of the stomping and strutting bassist Lee who sometimes adds massive leg kicks and swoops similar to that of The Spin Doctors’ Chris Barron.

Like any reggae act, they rely heavily on pounding bass lines and fat beats, but it is the slick serenading front man Hemphill's voice that is the most impressionable aspect of a SOJA show. The writer of the vast majority of SOJA material, Hemphill exudes a flowing eloquence with his Jamaican-flavored accent that resonates from a register sometimes reminiscent of early Eek-a-Mouse. Between the power-house political anthems, Hemphill also shares his vulnerability when downshifting to a more personal tone. Delighted fans participated in the sing-along, "Decide You're Gone", a melancholy note to that one has to let go of unrequited love. The vulnerable and slightly more promising romantic bookend followed.

The bands biggest hit and signature song remains 2009's "I Don't Wanna Wait", and it again rocked the house, but grizzled veterans of the band are partial to another quality effort. Jacob Hemphill introduced it, "This goes out to anyone who has been listening to us for 10 years and knows this song" before a drum bombardment held together a cohesive "You Don't Know Me" complete with trumpet fills, rapping from bassist Lee and an impressive lead guitar solo from Young, the newest member of the group having joined just one year ago. Frantic hands were up throughout the groove, waiting for the "drop" amidst an armada of cell cameras capturing the craziness.


Before an intense three song encore, the fans didn't even display disappointment that the concert hadn't yet elapsed two hours. Due to a Webster Hall scheduling conflict, there was a dead stop at Webster Hall at10:30pm. Hemphill took the stage and stated with purpose, "We are not on TV or on the radio right now, we are just here for you. It's not the money, not the fame, it's how far we can spread the music" before he delved into a poignant solo acoustic version of the insightful and inspiring "Everything Changes." The lyrics challenge the listener to imagine taking on a role reversal where they are totally solvent. The song plays off like Hemphill's "Redemption Song."

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[Published on: 6/3/13]

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