Easy Star All-Stars, the ragtag group of musicians started by Michael Goldwasser, Eric Smith, Lem Oppenheimer and Remy Gerstein of New York City-based Easy Star Records, have achieved the seemingly unachievable. They’ve made a name for themselves (and a big one, at that) “covering” iconic albums from the ages. But they’re not your off-tune, tacky Saturday in the wee hours karaoke cover singers. With Easy Star, it’s all about interpretation.
At the Fleece last night, they took us on their winding journey of Dub Side of the Moon; their interpretation of Pink Floyd’s irreplaceable album. Instead of copying those classic rock riffs, heavy tonal brass took its place; the touch of psychedelia is pushed conceptually further with kaleidoscopic rhythm breakdowns and basslines that roll harder than the wheel of cheese down Cooper’s Hill.
Before we were launched into a whirlwind of vibrant outerspace dub, we visited Radiohead’s 1997 record OK Computer. The crowd sung happily and loudly through streams of sweat to High and Dry, rounding off one of the hottest days of the year so far with an even hotter rendition of the classic tune under the guise of traditional Jamaican reggae. Our arms and legs all stuck together as we swayed back and forth to the winding trumpet melody.
On The Run sent us spinning into Dub Side of the Moon, which the collective played almost in full for their hour and a half long set. Interspersed with the much-welcomed diversity of the dynamic duo of female and male vocalists, the former adding to the ethereal, haunting aspect of the record and the latter recreating a depth of baritone I haven’t heard replicated since Tom Jones.
We quickly fall head over heels into Time. “Time is the master!” we chanted, bobbing our heads in time with the lead bassist who co-ordinated every strum, every step and every breakdown perfectly with the rest of the band. The male lead vocalist, here, unleashed his inner General Levy, spitting bars hard and fast, words barely audible they’d been spun together with such speed, but still maintaining this effortless and irreplicable sense of cool.
Dub Side of the Moon ran its course on stage with Eclipse, causing an absolute uproar of group skanking. This is where the collective showed their appreciation for Bristol, for opening their arms to dub music and sharing what reggae really means, with an epic rendition of Michael Jackson’s P.Y.T. “This is for you, pretty young things!” They shouted, as both drummer and keyboardist dropped into one of the final tracks of the night.
There’s no band quite like Easy Star All-Stars. No dub or reggae group, despite their ever-changing lineup over the years, have remained quite so consistent in bringing new elements out of classic tracks. The idea of a “cover band” can fill even the most open-minded music goer with a sense of overwhelming dread, but trust me on this one, okay?
All photos by Phil Riley
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