Concert Review: Sunfest Part V — Sly and Robbie, Gin Blossoms

The Riddim Twins (photo credit: Daniel Miller)
The Riddim Twins (photo credit: Daniel Miller)

Day 4, Sat. May 2, 2009 — Sly & Robbie: Reggae’s most famous rhythm section took to the stage in the middle of a sunny afternoon and immediately transported the audience to an atmospheric dimension of mysterious dub.  Accompanied by a spare horn section, consisting of trumpet and sax, with the trumpet player doubling as a vocalist for a number of the songs, drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare ran through their thirty-year catalogue of hits produced either for their own label’s band (The Taxi Gang) or for other artists. Songs like “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”, “Ballistic Affair”, “Arlene”, “Shine-Eye Gal” and “Revolution” highlighted the duo’s heyday of the late ’70s and early ’80s when they dominated the Jamaican singles charts.  The second half of most of these songs would essentially be the dub version of the track; Dunbar, almost hidden behind his cymbals, would crouch down while tapping out intricate reverb-drenched rhythms, while Shakespeare stood in front of the drum kit in a long, black leather coat, playing what can only be described as lead bass. For the Dawn Penn hit “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)”  the bassist even took his frontman pose to the surprising next step by handling the lead vocal. This was reggae at its best, and Sly & Robbie demonstrated quite ably why their reggae skills are in demand to this day.

Gin Blossoms:

Bassist Bill Leen of the Gin Blossoms is the only band member naive enough to bring his instrument with him to a bad neighbourhood
Guitarist Scotty Johnson of the Gin Blossoms is the only band member naive enough to bring his instrument to a bad neighbourhood


The afternoon set from this Phoenix band was actually the second half of a touring collaboration with fellow ’90 rockers Tonic. The Type Writer only caught the last few songs of the Gim Blossoms’ performance but it was still worth seeing. This group made its reputation with laid-back, jangly numbers such as “Alison Road” and “Until I Fall Away” but that didn’t stop frontman Robin Wilson from injecting some doses of high energy into the show from time to time. During one song, he stood on top of the kick drum while belting out his vocal; later during the hit “Hey Jealousy”, he left the stage to go sing in front of the lawn-seat audience, even cheerfully yelling into cellphones. The Type Writer also got to hear “Till I Hear It from You”, the group’s hit from the Empire Records soundtrack that was written with pop songwriting legend Marshall Crenshaw. All in all, listening to the Gin Blossoms was a pleasant way to decompress after the intense dub of Sly and Robbie.

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