Words by: Andrew Bruss | Images by: Steve Klise
Easy Star All-Stars :: 05.15.09 :: Middle East Downstairs :: Cambridge, MA
With reggae adaptations of an array of tunes from Pink Floyd, Radiohead and The Beatles, the Easy Star All-Stars managed to keep a sold-out crowd at Middle East Downstairs singing and dancing their hearts out for two straight hours.
The All-Stars, who formed as the house band for Easy Star Records, made their splash debut with 2003's Dub Side Of The Moon, an all-reggae interpretation of Pink Floyd's transformational 1973 release. Much like the next band they covered, the All-Stars strayed from the conventional path and followed Dub Side by covering Radiohead's OK Computer. Although the OK Computer revamp, Radiodread, helped to further establish the All-Stars as a reggae act that can be counted on for interesting covers, the apocalyptic stylings of OK Computer proved considerably less reggae-friendly than Pink Floyd. So, when the founders of Easy Star Records asked them to follow up with something a little more poppy, an Easy Star take on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band seemed like the natural choice. The recently released Easy Star's Lonely Heart's Dub Band (see JamBase's review here) is arguably their best studio effort to date, and when they brought material from all three albums to the Middle East, their Beatles covers shone the brightest.
After opening their set with two originals, the All-Stars drove straight into "Sgt. Pepper/With A Little Help." The songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney is considered by many to be one of, if not, the single greatest song writing partnership in the history of pop music, and the catchy, verse-chorus-verse-chorus sensibilities of The Beatles' 1967 masterpiece lent themselves perfectly to Easy Star's reggae rhythms. Adding to the visual aspect of their shtick, bassist and founding member Ras I Ray made a point of playing an Epiphone imitation of the Hofner Violin Bass McCartney helped put on the map.
After some more Sgt. Pepper tunes, the band moseyed through a Dub Side cover of "Breathe/On The Run" before performing several Radiohead tunes. Although "Paranoid Android" and "Airbag" are more popular OK Computer cuts than "Let Down," the latter worked best for the All-Star's adaptive purposes. The studio take of Radiodread's "Let Down" featured famed reggae icon Toots Hibbert on vocals, and although he wasn't on hand, the tune stood out as the best Radiohead cover of the night so far.
|Easy Star All-Stars :: 05.15 :: Boston|
After a few more Beatles tunes, the band followed with Floyd's "Money" before closing the proper portion of their performance with "Electrioneering," one of the more up-beat tracks off OK Computer. On the Dub Side studio take of "Money," the sounds of a cash register ringing were replaced by the sound of a bong bubbling, but as Ras I Ray explained, the songs had to be revamped and adapted to work in the live setting without the aid of studio production.
An encore of "Time" > "Great Gig In The Sky" > "Karma Police" may have avoided some of the more climactic anthems in their back-catalogue, but nonetheless, offered the audience another handful of the more-popular tunes off the albums they've covered. Keeping "A Day In The Life" off the setlist seemed to be an obvious decision given the band's commitment to keeping things natural in the live setting, but one couldn't help but feel as though closing the performance with "Eclipse" would have made the most sense. Regardless, "Karma Police," featuring their horn section mimicking Ed O'Brien's backup vocals, ended the night on a great note that an "Eclipse" closer may not have necessarily matched.
Following the show, Ray noted that their Boston-area crowd seemed to respond more positively to the Radiohead material than other crowds had in the past. But whether you're preference is Pink Floyd, Radiohead or The Beatles, Easy Star All-Stars demonstrated to a sold out crowd that when you make a point of working with material that defines generations you're guaranteed to send folks away with a smile on their face.
Easy Star All-Stars are on tour now, dates available here.
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