Reggae is Better Than Soccer

13 Jul

Sunday marked the end of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, with Holland facing off against Spain in a match that garnered a record 24 million American viewers. Which is surprising, considering the US was knocked out in the quarter finals against Ghana and you’d think Americans would be too preoccupied with LeBron’s move to The Heat to give a shit. But apparently they do, including my lame friend Max, who decided he’d rather watch a televised match of guys kicking a ball back and forth for hours on end when he had literally no investment in either team, rather than come to the free Jimmy Cliff concert in Central Park with me. I should have realized he would refuse- Max is always claiming to not like reggae (seriously though, who the hell dislikes reggae?), in fact he really only likes Hip-Hop and Rap made post-1994. But by the time I called him I was already desperate for a companion- Alison had to go to her boss’ baby shower in Jersey City, my buddy Alex Deschamps was entertaining his mom for the day and his roommate Nate was, as usual, completely impossible to track down. The only friend I have who actually likes reggae, Tina Liberti, was stuck in New Jersey for some reason and wouldn’t be back in time for the show. Despite all this, I was determined to see it, especially since last year I missed the free Lee “Scratch” Perry show because I actually went with friends, one of which (Bob) was a fool and thought we would get in if we got there right before it started. What he didn’t realize is that these free reggae shows attract nearly every Jamaican, Islander and pothead in the Tri-State area, and in order to get in you really need to get there right when the entrance opens, at 2 PM, which is what I did.

I used to view going to concerts alone the same way I looked at seeing movies by oneself. When I was younger, it seemed like a sign of social weakness, proof that you had no friends. It felt awkward. But sometimes, the friends you do have just can’t get their shit together, and if you really are invested in whatever piece of pop culture it is you wish to enjoy, you’re just going to have to man up and go it alone. While it would have been nice to have someone to talk to in between acts, going to the Jimmy Cliff show by myself was actually kind of nice. I got to focus entirely on the music, and didn’t have to worry about my girlfriend getting crushed in a mosh pit. Then again, this is reggae, so there weren’t any, for which I am very thankful. In my experience 20-something New York scenesters have adopted the retarded notion that they need to mosh to every genre of music, including to bands like Matt & Kim and The Faint. Instead, everyone was dancing, and I suppose it would have been nice to dance with my gf, even though I’m not really a huge fan of dancing.

Jimmy Cliff was truly amazing. This was my first reggae concert, and it was a great place to start. Cliff is one of reggae’s superstars, a founder of roots reggae and star of an awesome film called The Harder They Come, which has an even more awesome soundtrack. Even at age 62, the man still knows how to dance, and was a portrait of the consummate performer. He often spoke to the crowd, sometimes discussing political issues like Afghanistan (he changed the song “Vietnam” to “Afghanistan”) or the Gulf disaster, and was constantly getting us to sing refrains or clap our hands. He even quoted The Harder They Come before he played the title track: “Don’t-fuck-with-me!!!!” The set list included hits such as “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” “Sitting in Limbo,” covers of “I Can See Clearly Now” and “Wild World,” and a really kickass song called “One More” which I assume must be from his upcoming new album, Existence. The show ended with “Bongo Man,” performed almost exclusively on drums, which also segued into “Rivers of Babylon.” Afterwards the band (which was massive- guitarist, bassist, two keyboardists/samplers, trumpeter, saxophonist, drummer and an additional percussionist, and a female back up singer) came on for an extended encore, and left the stage one at time after performing solos, until only the bassist was left, slapping away happily. The concert summed up everything that reggae seems to be about in my opinion: political commentary, dancing, weed (there was a lot of that going around), and above all, happiness and love. I think what makes the genre so great is that while it is very distinct to one culture, it’s still something people of all races and ethnicities can appreciate.

This guy was wearing a ridiculous green print tracksuit when he performed at Summerstage.

One of the opening acts, a Sierra Leonean named Victor Deme, felt much more African, or as record labels put it “World Music.” I’m sure my dad, who in his old age seems to only enjoy music from third world countries, would love him, and he was good- I enjoyed his set. But it didn’t have the accessibility of roots reggae. It felt distinctly foreign, perhaps because the lyrics were in French, but also because of less electric guitars and more “native” percussion instruments, as well as a stringed thing that looked kinda like a mandolin. My point is that reggae is undeniably African, but has influences from so many genres, including rock and roll, that people all over the world can enjoy it equally.

The second opener, however, was pure shit. His name was Trevor Hall and he hailed from South Carolina. He brought his parents with him. He, and his entire band were all white. He had long blonde dreadlocks, played acoustic guitar almost exclusively, and sang in what I can only describe as that “white rapper thing they do in Sublime.” His appearance and music made it seem as if he was just one of those douchebags you meet in college who are always playing their acoustic guitar, and who only seem to listen to Sublime and Bob Marley.

How can you look at this guy and NOT want to punch him in his fucking mouth?

It’s like that guy somehow got a record deal and then somehow ended up opening for Jimmy Cliff. If Cliff hadn’t been so great and Deme so intriguing, I would have called Hall’s inclusion a travesty. His music is so mediocre, predictable and bland that to have him even standing near Jimmy Cliff is an insult to that man’s talent. Fortunately, once Cliff came on stage I completely forgot who Trevor Hall even was and why he had done an impromptu rap about the fact that it was raining. I don’t want to give the impression that white people can’t make reggae music, because that’d be racist to my own people, but well, lets be honest… they can’t really. There’s a reason ska exists. But if you are a white guy and you want to make reggae, you have to tread lightly. These are dangerous waters. You come on stage with the full package- blonde dreadlocks and beard, a white tank you clearly haven’t washed in years, and just bust out the Sublime rapping, no one’s going to take you seriously.

That is unless you’re a lame white person. When I arrived I naturally assumed everyone at the show had come to see Jimmy Cliff, as he was the most famous, was the headliner, and because that’s why I was there. But when Trevor Hall came on I realized a good portion of the audience’s white population had come to see HIM. Interspersed amongst the legitimate New Yorkers and Jamaican immigrants were wretched wannabe hippies, who clearly thought Jah himself had sent Trevor down so they could listen to reggae without feeling like they were being tainted by the devil music of Africa. A group of particularly obnoxious-looking 20 somethings in front of me actually LEFT when Hall finished his set. Just straight up left, didn’t even bother to wait to see the headlining act. I nearly puked at the sight.

But Hall was just a mild blemish on what was otherwise an incredible experience. I definitely want to go to more reggae shows, and if Summerstage keeps up the trend of having a big star of the genre appear on their bandstand for free every year, I’m in for the ride. I do hope they start to get better openers, though. When I saw Television in 2008 (also amazing), a semi-famous band called Apples in Stereo opened for them. Some may like the band, but I didn’t, and more importantly, they sounded nothing like Television and therefore didn’t belong on the same bill as them.

And so I missed the World Cup final. Who cares? I’m not from Spain or the Netherlands, and while I was planning on rooting for the latter since my ancestors came from there, I didn’t care enough to pass up on seeing such an incredible musician for free. Not to mention that it sounded like it was boring as shit, as Spain didn’t score until right near the end and then it was game over. So, to all of you who opted not to come with me, or didn’t pick up your phone- you’re idiots. You really missed out. I assure you, whatever it was you spent your Sunday doing, it was nowhere near as cool as what I did. So you missed out. You were foolish not to accompany me. I hope the knowledge of your loss haunts you forever. And for the love of god, come to next year’s Summerstage. It’s free. FREE CONCERT. What about that don’t you understand?

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