Toots and the Maytals have been one of reggae music's most enduring groups, and judging from Thursday night's show at the Kilimanjaro, it's easy to see why. Bandleader and vocalist Toots Hibbert led his five-man ensemble through a tight set that was varied and dynamic.
Toots' strength has always been live performance. Thursday night it was almost as if he worked magic, infusing reggae with R&B, soul, ska and even country styles without diluting or weakening the music's mettle. There was no preaching, posturing or prayer -- only one exuberant number after another in a set that never lagged.
In a brisk version of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (West Virginia became West Jamaica), Toots led the audience through a merry sing-along, as the tempo gradually sped up from a loose and easy rhythm to an almost staccato beat. From the more traditional, soulful "Bam Bam" to the deliriously and almost dangerously breakneck "Pressure Drop" and "Monkey Man," in a hard-driving and funky tribute to their soul influences Toots and the Maytals offered one of the most sweaty and satisfying reggae shows around. During the encore, when Toots exalted that "Reggae Got Soul," the happy and exhausted audience's agreement was emphatic.