Easy Does It (sorry…)

August 12, 2009 at 1:57 pm (Uncategorized)

Easy Star All Stars – Brighton Concorde2 – 05/08/09

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One of the main problems of being in a covers band, other than having ‘proper’ musicians constantly turning their noses up at you, must be the nagging feeling that all that applause, the accolades, groupies and free drugs, are really meant for someone else.

Sure, the crowds may flock to your gigs and sing along to every word, but at the end of the day they are someone else’s songs, and the feeling must remain that you are merely loaning their talent for a night, only to return to mediocrity in the morning. This, incidentally, is especially true for practically all of the reality TV created pop stars who are feted as gods while ape-ing ‘Light My Fire’ or ‘Hero’ on national TV, but find themselves promptly back at the deli counter at Tescos as soon as they try releasing anything that isn’t simply a tired re-hash of some hitherto forgotten Bananarama song.

X-Factor Covers - Music to everyone's ears

X-Factor Covers - Music to everyone's ears

The Easy Star All Stars are a different proposition however, and while you would have to class them as a covers band, both their choice of material and the way in which it is re-interpreted has made them an exciting proposition in their own right. I was first alerted to the band around six years ago when I heard their version of Pink Floyd’s Breathe billowing out of a flat window on a hot summer’s day and subsequently spent the best part of a year searching for what I believed to be either a fantastic remix, or at best a one off cover version.

Following the discovery that they had in fact covered the entirety of Dark Side Of The Moon and were to follow up with a dub version of another of my favorite albums, Radiohead’s OK Computer I realised that this was not just some reggae enthusiasts mucking about with other people’s songs, but a band dedicated to exploring some of the finest music ever made and extracting something fresh and vital from its depths. With perhaps their most ambitious project to date, a cover of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band recently released to further acclaim, the band now have a wealth of incredible songs to call on for their live show which stopped by at a muggy Concorde2 last night with palpable anticipation in the air.

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Taking to the stage with two of their own songs as a sort of warm up for the sing-alongs ahead, the depth and power of the band’s sound is immediately obvious. Warm bass lines coarse up through the floor and into chests where they nestle alongside booming drum beats from the back of the stage, while the top end is dominated by a squalling brass section that blasts out riffs into a beaming crowd. The whole sound however is somewhat dominated by Elenna Canlas’ synthesiser, which envelopes the entire crowd in a claustrophobic cocoon of echoing effects and ear-splitting stabs of gun-fire percussion. It is a technique that ensures depth and complexity to the group’s sound and really helps with some of the longer psychedelic passages particularly in the Floyd tracks, but at times it threatens to overwhelm some of her bandmates, especially as MC Menny More’s mic is far too low in the mix at the beginning of the set.

Still, the first few songs are very well received, and provide proof not only that the band can really play (as they will demonstrate admirably throughout the remainder of the night), but that they can create formidable blasts of dub reggae from scratch that could well stand up alongside some of the genres major players in the future. For tonight though it’s straight into Sgt Peppers, with the album’s intro segueing into an a-cappella ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ to the crowds obvious delight. The atmosphere created by these relentlessly upbeat renditions of such well loved songs borders on that of spiritual epiphany, with the crowd, (a mix of pretty much any demographic you care to mention) swaying together, holding hands, singing into each others ears and generally behaving like heavily sedated worshipers at some ultra-hippy commune, but for me there is a nagging doubt that the new material doesn’t quite match up to its predecessors.

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Perhaps the songs are a little too familiar and have been covered so many times that some of the novelty has worn off, but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as much depth of thought going into the arrangements as those from Dubside, or Radiodread. Lucy In The Sky in particular just sounds flat and unexplored, and it is at times like this that the band merely sound like a very good covers band, rather than a musical entity in their own right. Certain tracks, a joyously hyper When I’m Sixty Four for example, are much better suited to a reggae interpretation, especially with MC Menny More returning from the wings to energise the crowd with his perpetual smile and natural charisma.

For the most part however, the Beatles material falls a little way behind the rest, and it is only with the opening chords of Paranoid Android that things really get going. The soft bass lines and gentle percussion married to Kirsty Rock’s angelic vocals lull the song from a raging inferno of distorted noise and confusion to a soulful lament, beautifully enlivened by perfectly executed horn section. Come the final ‘rain down’ refrain, of course, the whole crowd are crooning along softly, arms aloft, and radiating love back to the band in abundance.

Things pick up further as the echo laden keyboards, atmospheric lighting and swirling on stage smoke herald the arrival of tracks from Dub Side Of The Moon, still arguably the most popular of the band’s releases. The strength of the band’s Floyd covers lays in the potential for divergence from the original musical theme inherent in the song’s structures.

Tracks like Breathe and Us and Them contain elongated musical breaks which allow the band to veer off into all manner of dub/reggae/drum n bass avenues, before returning with a snap to the original theme, thus giving the band the opportunity to stamp their originality on each piece. Guitarist Shelton Garner even rips through an outrageous Hendrix-esq solo at the end of Money, while a touch of flute in the intro to Time sets the song off in a newly soulful direction.

From here, the band has the crowd in the palm of their hands, with classics from Dubside and Radiodread segueing into each other amidst blessed out lights and mass singing and dancing. To be fair it would be pretty hard to fail considering the strength of the material, but when you have people singing along to a three minute saxophone solo you must be doing something right.

Perhaps the big problem with covering Beatles numbers lies in the fact that they are, although undeniably brilliant, fairly simple pop songs. With little room for interpretation outside of sticking a reggae beat underneath the basic melody and occasionally employing a bit of MC-ing over the top, the songs sound more like obvious cover versions rather than the illuminating re-imaginings that characterise their handling of more intricate tracks.

This is demonstrated aptly in closer ‘A Day In The Life’, and the encore of ‘Karma Police’. The former actually works brilliantly, with the band making the most of the long orchestrated ascent following ‘I’d love to turn you on’ and turning it into a piece of threatening dubstep before dropping back into the original grove. Karma Police ends up sounding flat in comparison, mainly because it’s probably the closest thing to a simple three minute pop song on OK Computer, and as a result the band have little option other than simply play it through from start to finish.

That in itself is still enjoyable, and singing along to a fine cover band, especially one that invigorates everything with a hit of reggae-fuelled sunshine is always going to be fun. The genius of Easy Star All Stars however, is that they’ve learned to do so much more.

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