Easy Star All Stars dub it out at Starlight

(Photo by Jody Waardenburg)

One of the coolest things about Starlight Social Club in Uptown Waterloo is how the space accommodates a diverse variety of shows. Having been to both unplugged and acoustic shows, as well as DJ’ed Saturday nights where the club is at capacity, it was great to experience a reggae concert.

Friday night played host to Los Angeles’ The Aggrolites, followed by the Easy Star All Stars collective. An after-party with Friday’s resident deejay, DJ Charles followed the concert.

The crowd was a mixture of Waterloo residents who were there to dance, ranging in age from 19 to 65. Through the diversity in the social classifications of the audience, the music stood as the sole unifying factor — you were there because you had an appreciation of good, live music.

All five members of the Aggrolites took the stage by storm bringing the mostly-seated audience to its feet. Huddled around the stage, everyone began to groove to the music and a small group of avid fans created a jam circle where everyone danced around each other.

Organ and piano player Roger Rivas brought the music to life as he danced behind the organ to the music the band created. Watching him play was captivating as he seemed to bang on the organ — yet the music of a skilled artist protruded from the instrument.

Lead singer Jesse Wagner interacted with the crowd riling them up with close, personal contact and by passing the microphone to audience members to sing along with the band. Crowd favourites included the instrumental “Soul Gathering” which had the crowd bouncing along and the encore performance of the band’s cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” which had the crowd harmonizing at full volume.

A short break built anticipation for the awaited Easy Star All Stars and after some sound glitches were fixed, the nine performers took the stage to much applause and cheers.

Producer and arranger Michael Goldwasser described the philosophy behind the music collective.

“As musicians we like all different things. We don’t want to restrict ourselves to just looking at rock or looking at R&B. We want to look at really great, interesting albums that we could reinterpret.”

The set comprised mainly of covers from their newest release Easy Star All Star Thrillah, a dub of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Covers included “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” led on vocals by the keyboardist, “Beat It” and “P.Y.T.” Hits from their previous albums including Radiodread’s “Karma Police” and Dub Side of the Moon’s “Time” had the crowd shouting and dancing along. Even DJ Charles was dancing to the music from his makeshift booth off to the side.

The collective’s on stage presence was powerful and their chemistry was admired by the audience. Making everyone feel comfortable, the band applauded the strengths of each member and showcased them with solos. The stage presence of each member resonated with the audience, creating a personal connection that’s only possible in a group this varied.

Easy Star All Star’s Thrillah “allowed us to explore the R&B side of reggae more which was fun since we all have an R&B background,” explained Goldwasser. “I’m a big fan of the original album and a fan of a lot of Michael Jackson’s work.”

Comprised of two lead vocalists, a keyboardist, guitarist, bassist, drummer, a trombone and trumpet player, the reggae and R&B backgrounds of each member create a cohesive sound in their songs that are unlike any other cover.

“It’s not even about just getting to explore the R&B side of reggae, but I’m hoping it will be more educational for our fans and listeners,” said Goldwasser.

“I’m hoping that people will listen to Easy Star’s Thrillah and it’ll kinda occur to them like wow – R&B makes a lot of sense together and maybe they’ll investigate on their own why it makes so much sense together by looking back at what’s gone on in reggae over the years.”

Closing with a double encore and jam session led by the drummer, the band played their renditions of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Pink Floyd’s “Money.”

Goldwasser confirmed “[Easy Star All Stars] only have two dates in Canada on this tour. We’re trying to get some more dates in Canada in 2013.”

If you want to take a nostalgic trip through the most influential albums in your life, check out the Easy Star All Stars.

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