Central Park Summerstage was filled to capacity for this much-awaited double bill featuring two of reggae's biggest stars: veteran Jamaican producer, arranger and singer Lee "Scratch" Perry and Ivory Coast-born Alpha Blondy, who reportedly decided to become a professional musician while attending a Burning Spear concert at this very venue over two decades ago.
The afternoon started off as Doublestandard took the stage with a few guests, including Ari Up (of The Slits), who sang "Equal Rights," a classic song originally recorded by the late Peter Tosh. About ten minutes into the set, Perry joined the band wearing a purple beard, an exotic suit and a small suitcase. He went straight to business with an upbeat tune that clamored for peace and understanding (the lyric included references to "Hare Krishna" among other chants), providing as a follow-up, "Legalize It," Tosh's controversial song that pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana around the globe.
The musicians took several opportunities to improvise around Perry's freestyle verses, which considerably extended the numbers. But that was what fans were there to hear, and Perry did not disappoint, taking everyone on a journey into the origins of the style he helped develop with the Wailers in the late '60s, then leaving the stage to thunderous applause.
While Perry's set was mostly centered on roots-reggae music with a few concessions to more modern material, Alpha Blondy's program was the exact opposite. His 12-piece Solar System band started with an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin's iconic "Black Dog," setting the mood for something quite different from what Perry had done before him.
Blondy's approach is more in touch with his African rootswith some pop, R&B and soul mixed in. His lyrics were clearly ingrained in the audience's memory, and they sang along (Blondy's set was mostly in French, with some tunes in English and African dialects) with much gusto. His band was extremely solid, and as a result the show turned out to be very enjoyableone of the best the 2009 season has seen yet.
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