The anonymous bystander who said it before the concert had it right: "It's going to get hot in here."
Though it felt like it was only in the 20s or 30s outside the Chimney, er Coliseum, before Friday night's Ras Records reggae spectacular, once patrons got inside they may have thought they had stepped into Jamaica's sunny climes.Not only did the three groups performing conjure images of bright, shining beaches, but due to an inversion or something (probably caused by the ton of smoke billowing out of the largely teenage crowd's lungs) the temperature rose to a fair approximation of Jamaica's coastline in the summer - refreshing for a chilly fall evening.
Also, it may sound tacky to say this, but there was something else hot in the air: a heart-warming set by lead act Israel Vibration. The three-man vocal team - slightly crippled by childhood bouts of polio - may have had to use crutches to prop themselves up, but in the eyes of everyone who sees them perform, they stand tall as trees.
Utilizing the extremely experienced band Roots Radics as their support musicians, Skelly, Apple and Wiss - Cecil Spence, Albert Craig and Lacelle Bulgin, respectively - let their harmonies soar during their set, which featured probably the most authentic and old-style Jamaican reggae the valley has heard in quite some time.
For example, in other hands, the gentle ode to peace in Arab nations "Middle East" may have come off as heavy handed, but instead in Craig's capable hands (and vocal chords) it sounded well-spoken and timely, especially in light of his chiding of President Bush's more extreme threats toward Saddam Hussein. Besides, how could you not trust three individuals who look so much like holy men?
The three took turns on lead vocals, with Craig's slightly sweeter voice being a particular gem. Surprisingly, the three also took turns at attempting to dance, though Spence and Bulgin are more severely crippled. It was a touching moment in a terrific live show.
Besides, as I've said before, no other musical style can make two chords sound so good or so contagious, and I've concluded that you can't bear any evil toward anyone while listening to reggae music - certainly not while watching something so inspiring.
Having been studio musicians for many of reggae's greatest artists (including Gregory Isaacs and Peter Tosh) has paid off for Roots Radics, and so has their experience at playing together.
Playing a more dance-oriented reggae mix than the headliners, Roots Radics blended a dance-hall style (using toasting - the Jamaican equivalent of rapping) with pop trappings to get the dance floor shaking.
On second thought, maybe it (the shaking) could have been Flabba Holt's sturdy bass lines, which I swear you could feel all the way down to your bones, especially on "Come on to Another" and the title track from their "Hot We Hot" album.
The latter also featured steel percussion-like keyboard work from Dwight Pinkney and sterling guitar work from Bingy Bunny, who shares vocal and guitar chores with Style Scott.
Probably setting the tempo and temperature for the evening was opening act Irie Heights, the valley's most long-lived and successful reggae band. The group, which takes its name from a line from a Bob Marley song, shined in its brief set - especially on its cover of Culture's "Tribute to Bob Marley."