Monday, February 19, 2007

Richie Spice at Zanzibar

On his most recent albums, Jamaican singer Richie Spice cleverly displayed a modern take on roots reggae; the production was more polished, his group used some contemporary keyboard-generated rhythms, and his singing displayed traces of rhythm and blues. Friday night at Zanzibar, Spice and his New Kingston Band took a rawer approach -- the tempos were faster, the instrumentation was noisier, and he chanted his vocals more than he crooned them. This method proved successful as well, thanks to Spice's engaging presence, his combo's skills and the harmonies of his backing female vocalists.

Dressed in a white suit with a bright red wrap over his dreadlocks, the 35-year-old Spice exuberantly delivered his bouncy songs and between-songs patter. Early in the set, though, his enthusiasm got the best of him: Spice awkwardly cut off the oh-so-catchy "Earth a Run Red," his best-known composition, to jabber with his band and the crowd. However, he soon regained his momentum with the lilting sociopolitical anthems "Black Like Tar" and "Brown Skin." Both cuts not only showed off his cultural pride, but also gave the band a chance to get in a groove.

Later, Spice shifted gears vocally and exhibited more of his soulfulness on "Ghetto Girl" and especially "Spinning Around," on which he wonderfully sang in falsetto. On "Youths Are So Cold," he and his band seamlessly pulled together all of their disparate strengths. The group mixed together laid-back '70s reggae rhythms with upbeat dancehall and rap elements as Spice drew on his vocal chops, his Rastafarian faith and his familiarity with the bleakness of life in Jamaican slums for the most impassioned selection of the night.

-- Steve Kiviat

Mastodon at the 9:30 Club

The braininess of Atlanta quartet Mastodon's fusion of metal and prog rock is apparent from the group's intricately cultivated elemental themes (fire on 2002's "Remission," water on the "Moby-Dick"-inspired "Leviathan," and earth on last year's "Blood Mountain") and from its consistent brand of album art executed in close collaboration with Philadelphia painter Paul Romano. On Saturday night at the 9:30 club, despite being removed from a calculated studio setting, the group still showed that intellect in a tight 75-minute set of raging guitar riffs and thunderous drum fills.

In fact, the only decidedly non-brainy moment of the performance came when singer-guitarist Brent Hinds motioned to the club's kitchen and asked whether the crowd ever threw food at a band. (Thankfully, no one succumbed to the power of suggestion.) For the rest of the smoothly flowing set, the group blazed through riff after stunning riff with few between-songs interruptions. Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders traded and shared vocal duties, their anguished bellows amplifying the passion on "This Mortal Soul" and "Aqua Dementia."

Though ardent, those vocals may have been the show's only weak spot, as it was nearly impossible to distinguish words (and therefore, those clever themes) in Hinds's and Sanders's roars. But the sold-out crowd hardly seemed to notice, judging from the sea of fists pumping in the air during the heavily cadenced "Blood and Thunder."

-- Catherine P. Lewis

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