[Typist’s Notes: While the Type Writer was waiting in vain for The Pixies to play “Here Comes Your Man”, his press partner Empress K of Reggae Reflection was at the other end of the festival listening to (and photographing) Hebrew reggae artist Matisyahu. Here is her account (and photographs) of that concert]
It’s been three years since Matisyahu and his 3 piece band Dub Trio last performed at SunFest. At that time, Matisyahu had recently transformed his image with short blonde hair, a clean shaven face and without his yarmulke. This year, Matisyahu has slightly transformed his image again; his hair is slightly longer, definitely more gray than blonde and he now has a short graying beard, for the time being at least.
What hasn’t changed is the quality of the message in his music and the love of his fans. We thought he had a capacity crowd during his last performance on the same stage at SunFest. We had no idea until we saw the massive crowd in attendance this year, all trying to fit into the small FPL stage area.
The late afternoon set included music from most of his albums including his 5th studio album, “Akeda”, released in June of 2014. For his closing song he performed his chart topping song “One Day”, a song expressing hope for peace from his 2009 album, “Light”. Matisyahu then invited many of his enthusiastic fans to join the celebration on stage, some waving Israeli flags. We fully expect that the next time Matisyahu performs at SunFest, he will be scheduled for one of the larger festival stages where his fans will have even more room to embrace the unique blend of Reggae Music that Matisyahu brings to the fans.
A large multi-generational crowd weathered the mid-afternoon heat to watch this veteran alternative band. The Boston-area group opened their set with an ode to front-man Black Francis’ college, “U-Mass.” This crunchy track from the group’s 1991 release Trompe Le Monde set the stage for a loud performance of guitar-driven New Wave such as “Wave of Mutilation.”
Francis alternated between acoustic and electric guitars while singing bawdy but learned lyrics such as “You are the son of a motherf**ker” from the track “Nimrod’s Son”, a reference to the incestuous behaviour of that biblical character. The group also introduced a new song during the set, which mainly seemed to consist of Francis yelling out “I’m a super!” repeatedly.
The position of bassist, held originally by Breeders ‘ front-woman Kim Deal, has been filled by Paz Lechantin from A Perfect Circle since late 2013. The group may no longer be performing songs where Kim sang lead, but Paz does supply background vocals on several numbers.
While the material bordered on punk at times, some tunes near the end of the set were a bit more melodic. But what might have seemed to be a lead-in for the group’s best-known single, “Here Comes Your Man” was not to be, as that song did not make this set-list. Like the lyrics say, “there is a wait so long” for a song that did not come. Surely the omission of a band’s biggest hit from a festival performance has to be the ultimate in party fouls.
The blue sky of Sunfest’s final day was complemented by the “sunshine reggae” of this Hawaiian/Californian band. Guitarist/frontman Micah Pueschel led the band through a sampling of the group’s nine years’ worth of releases, and also a couple new songs. The upbeat single “Reelin” was released about a week before that show, and “Midnight”, a track from the upcoming summer release “Hotting Up” was also performed. The appreciative college-aged audience sang along with a lot of the material, which included crowd favourites such as “Turn Around” and “Summer Nights.” The group’s other guitarist/vocalist Micah Brown sang lead for the Bob Marley cover “Is This Love”, with bassist Adam Taylor smiling behind his shades the whole show. The encore consisted of more popular material: “Falling” and “Time Bomb.”
Irish artiste Andrew Hozier-Byrne deserves some style points for his atmospheric staging. Light beams of various colours cut through the dark and the smoke, making the stage look like the interior of a gloomy cathedral.
The other notable visual feature was the Hozier name rendered in jagged strokes; in addition to appearing in the typical kick-drum location and on other equipment, the logo appeared most notably as a large backlit display at the rear of the stage.
Normally, the plastering of an artist’s name all over his stage would indicate a massive ego, but the writer of the song seemed anything but that. Even though the large screaming audience appeared to be very familiar with his material, he still took a lot of time in between songs to talk about their meanings, making his large-stage festival show feel more like an intimate coffee-house appearance.
In addition to a typical lineup of keyboards, bass, guitars and two female backing vocalists, the band’s instruments also included a cello.
Hozier himself strummed a lovely assortment of guitars as he sang selections from his 2014 self-titled debut. The material ranged from bluesy tunes (“To Be Alone”, “It Will Come Back”), ornate acoustic ballads (“Like Real People Do”) and string-oriented songs (“Someone New”).
As might be expected, the last song of Hozier’s set was his international hit ballad, “Take Me To Church.” Certainly a soulful way to end a Saturday night.
Like his half-brother Stephen, reggae/dancehall artist Damian Marley emulates blues musicians such as the late B.B. King in terms of how to make an entrance. First, his band took to the stage before him, to play an instrumental version of Bob Marley’s “Sun Is Shining.” The group includes Damian’s longtime collaborator Shiah Coore on bass.
Like Damian, Shiah is a second-generation reggae musician with an impeccable pedigree: his father is legendary guitarist “Cat” Coore of the group Third World. Also in Damian’s band is one of his brother Stephen’s musicians, guitarist Ranoy Gordon.
At the end of the instrumental, longtime Marley M.C. Sky High came onstage, dressed in a suit of many colours, to announce “Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present to you, all the way from Kingston, Jamaica… Damian ‘Jr. Gong Zilla’ Marley!”
Even with an introduction worthy of a boxing match, Damian still didn’t take to the stage, leaving it to his band and backup singers (Roslyn Williams and Nikki Burt) to perform “Confrontation”, a track recorded with Bunny Wailer for his hit album Welcome to Jamrock.
[Island Stage photos above by Empress K of Reggae Reflection]
Then as the band started playing “Mek It Bun Dem”, a recording collaboration with DJ Skrillex, Damian could be heard doing the toasting intro offstage. Finally he came into view, accompanied by a dread flag-bearer whipping around a flag with the colours and crest of the Rastafarian religion. This energetic flag-bearer would keep up his frenetic activity for the entire show.
Like SOJA before him, Damian made good use of the catwalk, striding its length with his ankle-dreads waving behind, as the band accompanied him for “More Justice.” But no stage-diving for this Reggae star; Damian was simply using the catwalk to get a little closer to his fans, who had turned out in full force despite the late afternoon heat.
Just about all of Damian’s albums were represented in his set: Mr. Marley (“Trouble”); Halfway Tree (“It Was Written”); Distant Relatives, the collaboration with his 2010 SunFest partner, rapper Nas, ( “Land of Promise”, “Patience”); the compilation Set Up Shop Vol. 1 (title track, “Affairs of the Heart”); and the aforementioned Welcome to Jamrock (“Hey Girl”, “Beautiful”, and the “Exodus”-inspired “Move!”, amongst others). Of course, Damian’s father’s material was also represented, with covers of “War/No More Trouble” and “Could You Be Loved” at the end of the regular set. For Damian’s combination of the Bob Marley hit and his own hidden-track version from Half Way Tree, he was joined onstage by his young son Elijah. Damian kicked off his encore with another Bob Marley/Peter Tosh classic, “Get Up, Stand Up.” Even people outside the SunFest gates could be seen jamming to it. Damian ended with his best-known song, the dancehall hit “Welcome To Jamrock.”
Soldiers Of Jah Army, an eight-piece reggae band from the D.C. area, took to the SunFest main stage mid-afternoon of Day 4 of the festival, just as it did three years earlier when promoting Strength To Survive, its first release on Dave Matthew’s ATO label. Now the group is promoting its latest ATO release, Amid The Noise and Haste, which was nominated for the Reggae Grammy in February.
Despite the bright South Florida sunshine, frontman Jacob Hemphill took off his sunglasses from time to time as he sang and played guitar. Most of the lead vocals were handled by Hemphill, but blond-dreadlocked bassist Bobby Lee provided his deep-voiced delivery to the deejay break for the song “You Don’t Know Me”, from the 2006 album Get Wiser.
In addition to executing his signature high-kick during the show, he and other band-members made good use of the catwalk that jutted into the audience. At one point, Hemphill was joined on the catwalk by trumpeter Rafael Rodriguez and saxophonist Hellman Escorcia, and lead guitarist Trevor Young also used it as a launching point for a dive into the crowd. Throughout the show, explosive conga beats were provided by percussionist Kenny Bongos.
The group played tracks from its five-album catalogue, including “Mentality” from Strength To Survive, and from its latest release, the track “I Believe”, recorded with Michael Franti and Nahko, “She Still Loves Me” (recorded with Collie Budz), and “Shadow”, with lead vocal by Trevor. In the three years since the group’s previous appearance at SunFest, its following has grown exponentially, as evidenced by the large crowd that braved the heat to watch the band. But while this performance was good, I couldn’t help but feel that the group’s 2012 SunFest show was more engaging, and Empress K of Reggae Reflection preferred the band’s performance at the Nine Mile festival in Miami in February. But we were probably in the minority in thinking that, and I imagine this won’t be the last SunFest will see of SOJA.