Shakespeare in Dub
Shakespeare, as in Robbie Shakespeare, of Sly and Robbie fame, rocked the Barrymore Theater on June 10. Sly and Robbie have been the backbone of Jamaican reggae for more than thirty years. But their influence is felt worldwide.
According to Allmusic.com, “Their rhythms have been the driving force behind innumerable songs — one statistician estimated that together they’ve played on approximately 200,000 tracks, and that doesn’t count remixes, versions, and dubs. As a production team, the pair has been the equivalent of a creative storm, the cutting edge of modern dub, ragga, and dancehall.”
They’ve played on and produced albums for a variety of artists including Bob Dylan, Grace Jones, Bunny Wailer, Ben Harper, No Doubt, Serge Gainsbourg, the Rolling Stones, Gilberto Gil, and Carlos Santana.
Sly Dunbar was on drum kit and Robbie bounced the heavy bass lines, with a top-notch back-up band. (The rhythm guitarist bore a striking resemblance to Nelson Mandela, which was kinda cool.)
They started out playing “Liquidator Dub,” which is the opening track to their excellent album “Masters of Dub.”
For people unfamiliar with the genre, dub music is a form of reggae that features a throbbing bass and drums sound. Often older tunes are remixed into a dub style. So, for example, “Liquidator Dub” is a remix of the 1969 hit, “The Liquidator,” with lots of echoes and reverb.
And it’s this remixing that Sly and Robbie are so good at. Unlike other reggae bands, Sly and Robbie take old songs and make them sound fresh. I saw Stephen Marley, scion of Bob Marley, a few months ago at the same venue and was disappointed by the weak Bob Marley medley Stephen threw in. Sure, the audience expected it, but did it seem stale.
Sly and Robbie drew from reggae hits from the past and performed current ones, too. They played a pared down version of “Welcome to Jamrock,” a recent hit by Damian Marley (another progeny of Bob Marley).
And when Robbie sang the old dancehall tune, “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No),” I wanted to melt. It’s one of my favorite songs, ever. And to see it performed live by the Masters of Dub was truly memorable.
Robbie looked like a samurai, dressed in a long, black sleeveless coat hanging over his jeans and sneakers. He wielded his bass like a sword. I could feel the bass line in my chest. As a friend said, he could play the same note for 100 measures in a row and still make it sound interesting.
Sly Dunbar was amazing on drums. It resonated on the dance floor.
After nearly 2 hours of groove, the band bid farewell. Robbie was the last one on stage. He sang and played a long meandering solo on his guitar. He left the stage while still playing his bass.
After all these years, they didn’t dial it in. They even came to the lobby and smiled for photographs. I happened to be right there at the merch table and snagged an autograph.
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