Words by: Ryan Dembinsky | Images by: Julie Collins/Rose Mountain Photo
Burning Spear :: 07.30.09 :: Prospect Park Bandshell :: Brooklyn, NY
When it comes to firing up a crowd, there exist few things capable of eliciting that peak level of excitement and crowd noise like a cool surprise guest, a rare bust-out tune, a streaker or a jaw-dropping virtuoso performance. Well, perhaps one other rarity draws out this type of momentous roar: an old man breaking out in furious dance moves.
|Burning Spear :: 07.30 :: Brooklyn|
For a mere three bucks suggested donation, thousands of Brooklynites witnessed the 63-year-old Burning Spear, aka Winston Rodney, do just that in the shadows of the Grand Army Arch at the Prospect Park Bandshell. After an instrumental introduction by his amiable, massive backing band that cycled through a number of familiar Spear songs, the big man himself waltzed onstage covered in mountains of grey hair and got right down to it, driving the crowd bananas with his acrobatic marching. He subsequently instigated a slow building African Nyabinghi jam on his hand drum setup, which was not all that unlike the tympanis from your local high school marching band, and led his group through a festive evening of roots reggae that got the crowd singing along with his message.
"Talk to me people. Talk to me!"
Burning Spear played the perfect host for a gorgeous summer night in what had to be one of the most celebratory installments of the Celebrate Brooklyn series. Spear brought out an exceptionally diverse crowd, both in terms of race/ethnicity as well as interest level. For every hardcore fan there were probably two fans more interested in hanging out with friends and tilting back a few beers to celebrate their borough and the arrival of the weekend. Both sects were shown a great time, and with tons of space for all the serious folks were not bothered by the mass of quasi-interested attendees.
Musically, Spear and company kept a good portion of the crowd dancing and singing as they mixed up deep, funky reggae jams, extended drum movements and some crunchy guitar solos.
For being one of reggae's biggest stars and preachers of Marcus Garvey's self-reliance philosophy, Burning Spear's catalog lacks big hits to the degree of say Peter Tosh, Toots or even Gregory Isaacs. To this extent, it seemed the casual concertgoers lost interest towards the end of the show, but for the more clued in attendees, highlights were plentiful. Spear treated fans to popular tunes such as "Slavery Days," a bouncing pop take on "Nyah Keith" and the patriotic "Red, Green, and Gold" for the abundant Jamaican audience.
"Do you want more original reggae music?" cried Spear.
Despite the popularity and critical acclaim of Spear's 2008 Grammy winning release for best reggae album, Jah Is Real, the setlist contained a sundry mixture of the catalog, not at all focusing on the newer material. In fact, only the title track "Jah is Real," got the nod off the new(ish) album with the remaining time devoted to old familiar numbers. Either approach would have been fine as Jah Is Real makes a strong case to be considered his best yet, but given the festive, albeit abbreviated, performance in front of such a large crowd, fans seemed ecstatic to hear the oldies.
| Burning Spear :: 07.30 :: Brooklyn|
The highlight of the night came with the opening song of the three song encore as the impassioned crowd belted out the lyrics to "Columbus" in unison, a tune that bluntly rips the idea that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Burning Spear finally closed down for the night with the fitting "Postman," with its lyrics citing, "I should go home, yes, Jah," to a thunderous hurrah.
Due to the outdoor setting and Prospect Park rules, the show wrapped up quicker than a normal performance, but not before Spear demonstrated his passion for both his craft and his beliefs as he emphatically sang and danced his songs of Jah, freedom, self-reliance, unity, spirituality, Diaspora and the love of reggae music. A night like this makes it lucidly clear why people have so much Brooklyn pride. Brooklyn is not simply an indie rock borough full of the bearded and hip; it's also a borough of diverse cultures that place value on music, art, positivity and good times, and Burning Spear led a mighty fine celebration of all of these.
Continue reading for more photos of Burning Spear in Brooklyn...