Ever wondered what your favourite album would sound like if it was covered by a dub reggae band? No me either. That was until a couple of years ago, however, when I was introduced to Easy Star All-Stars and their take on Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. It was a revelation. Now, the All-Stars are back, after releasing a reggae version of Radiohead’s OK Computer in the meantime, to take a shot at The Beatles’ era-defining masterpiece Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band for the good people of Birmingham.
But before the dub reggae mash-up could begin there was the small matter of the support act. I found myself asking: “How do you pick a band to open for such an eclectic bunch as the Easy Stars?” Ed Rome and the Connectors gave me my answer, making an innocuous entrance to the stage before kicking off with a healthy dose of bounce and twang.
On first impression, lead singer and guitarist Ed Rome reminded me of early Gomez with his gravel-voiced delivery, but with the added bonus of looking like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Throwing in some rhythmic reggae drumming, stirling saxophone work and retro organs, the Connectors really started to click. Support bands often get short thrift compared to the main event, but to the late-arriving crowd at the Academy, I can safely say you missed a treat. Pogo-inducing ska, soulful reggae and even a slide-guitar-infused country crossover got the early-comers dancing well before the headliners arrived, making an enjoyable and welcome change to the damp reception often afforded to opening acts.
After the more-than-adequate warm-up, on came most of Easy Star All-Stars, kicking off with an original tune to get into the swing of things. Soon it was time to crack out the new material though. Even if by new I mean over 40 years old. Bringing in the familiar opening chords of Sgt Peppers’ title track with added horns and a Jamaican bounce, I immediately found myself smiling. The combination just seems to work so well, in a way that just wouldn’t with any other style of music. Seguing into ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, it was clear the piece of pop perfection sounded completely at home in its new guise, as if it was always intended to someday ‘go reggae’.
Joined by their enigmatic MC and vocalist, Easy Star showed their unique vision, transforming tracks such as ‘She’s Leaving Home’ from a melancholic and thoughtful tune into a happy, energetic sing-along with the extremely talented female singer and a trombone and sax backing. ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’ was similarly changed from the psychedelic circus of the original to include a drum ‘n’ bass breakdown and mad dancing.
Taking a detour to the ‘dub’.side of the moon, we were treated to the revamped ‘Breathe’ by Pink Floyd, before jumping again to a full run-through of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ in the obligatory reggae restyling. All of the performances were spot on, bettering the recorded efforts to my surprise. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, and ‘Within You, Without You’ were notable tunes from the Sgt Peppers repertoire, while ‘Money’, and ‘Time’ were beamed in from the dub side and ‘Karma Police’ and ‘Airbag’ worked their reggae magic on OK Computer.
Although covering well-know material in a different style is no new trick, Easy Star All-Stars take it to a whole new level, making classic songs fun and practically impossible not to dance along to. I can’t remember the last gig that made me smile for so long. A great rapport with the constantly-bobbing audience and the talent on display left me feeling fully satisfied as I left the inadequate venue. The only question remains, which album will they take on next?
Review: Ian Ravenscroft
Photos – Katja Ogrin