Song of the Day: Toots & the Maytals

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Artist: Toots & the Maytals Track: "Funky Kingston" Album: Finky Kingston

About the music For nearly six months, when I lived with friends after college and threw many backyard barbecues, the beautiful, happy sounds of this Jamaican group blasted from my speakers at least once daily. For a short period in the '70s, the Maytals were untouchable - producing some of the catchiest, most enjoyable music in pop history. The group won two Jamaican Festival best song competitions - one each for "Bam Bam" and "Sweet and Dandy" - but this song is their best.

Many have discovered Toots through his 2004 release True Love, which features notable pop stars like Willie Nelson and Ben Harper offering their assistance. But no one can match the chops of the Maytals.

Why to know it The Maytals performed at the Newport in July 2005, but the amicable band of Jamaicans was hindered by bad sound and what I think was just an off night. Many thanks to Roots Records for bringing them back to the Alrosa Villa March 21. Seeing a band this amazing and influential at such an intimate venue is a rare opportunity indeed.

Look for print coverage of the show March 15. For now, I included my review of the last show below...

Publication: THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Date: Saturday, July 2, 2005 REGGAE DREAMS CRUSHED BY BAD SOUND, RHYTHM After hearing the Maytals' 1973 masterpiece Funky Kingston during my freshman year of college, I nursed the common fantasy in which the band's tour bus breaks down in front of my house, stranding frontman Toots Hibbert and his band of amicable musicians at my happening backyard barbecue.

There would be tiki torches, a roasted pig and, while the mechanic toiled outside, an impromptu set by the greatest reggae act since Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Thursday's show at the Newport Music Hall was somewhat of a letdown for anyone harboring similar daydreams.

"I'm in the fifth row, man, I shouldn't be able to have a conversation with someone 10 feet away,'' said one fan who made several trips to the sound booth hoping to remedy the completely awful sound mixing.

His complaint was echoed by many standing in the sunken area before center-stage who chanted "Turn it up'' during one break and casually conversed during others.

Because reggae relies on syncopation, on juicing every note in a sparse arrangement and molding together each instrument over the rhythm section, a good mix is crucial. The rhythm comes not from the drums, but from guitars, horns, keys and vocals wrapped skintight around the drums.

During the first several songs, the vocals were so buried it seemed as if Toots were lip-syncing; when he finally let loose his impassioned guttural shouts and his ringing soprano, he drowned the others out.

The beautiful Jamaican art is the most orchestral form of pop music: Without any one part of the symphony, everything falls apart.

Faulty sound wasn't the only problem.

For the majority of the 90-minute set, the band performed standards such as "Pressure Drop," "Sweet and Dandy" and "Time Tough" by starting slowly, initiating calls and responses and ending at an ever-quickening crescendo that destroyed the subtle pacing that makes reggae so powerful and dance-worthy.

Then, as if awakening from a deep sleep, the band ended the otherwise dreary show with solid versions of "Funky Kingston," "Monkey Man" and a tastefully extended jam, complete with a winning crowd singalong.

Call it too little, too late.

Columbus reggae sextet Flex Crew opened the show with solid originals and a clever medley that included "Redemption Song" and other Marley standards.