Wednesday, August 15 , 2018, 2:55 am | Fair 67º


Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry Dubs It Up at SOhO

Reggae legend brings a hit of Jamaica to Santa Barbara

If you wanted to dance Saturday night, the place to be was SOhO Restaurant & Music Club. Good tunes and good vibes filled the air, courtesy of reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry and his, well, smokin’ band.

Perry is sometimes credited with having invented reggae. I’ll leave that to the historians, but indisputably his late 1960s productions were among the first to feature and popularize the reggae sound. Perry produced Bob Marley’s pivotal early singles and his first album (after threatening to kill Marley for stealing his best musicians), and hundreds of other songs by various artists spread over multiple labels. He also wrote and sang songs, and along with King Tubby pioneered the dub genre. His Black Ark studio produced some of the most celebrated reggae music in the 1970s, but the subsequent bad vibes caused Perry to burn it down, according to his own claim at least. A genius, and perhaps a bit of a madman, Perry’s importance to the development of reggae music can hardly be overstated.

At the beginning of their SOhO show, as Perry’s young band consisting of a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and a keyboard player laid down a slow, spacey groove, several packs of incense sticks pushed into oranges were placed next to his microphone stand. These, plus the smoke from a few surreptitious hits of don’t-ask-don’t-tell by audience members created a haze into which Perry emerged, singing “higher, higher, higher.” When he called “I want you to say ‘yay’” and “I want you to say ‘yah’,” the crowd yelled back enthusiastically. This began an unrelenting groove-fest, gloriously inhaled by the packed, I’m-in-the-mood-for-dancing crowd.

In many ways, Perry must be seen to be believed. He was adorned with a collection of unique rasta-cessories: hanging star-in-circle earrings, an assortment of rings, necklaces and bracelets, a hat with sparkly badges, Ed Hardy skull shorts, a spider web-themed black sweatshirt worn over a T-shirt, red combat boots, and strikingly, a dark purple beard and close-cropped hair. His microphone had trinkets hanging from it, including Jesus and an ankh.

Curiously, Perry carried out a sticker-covered small suitcase when he came out. The contents remained a mystery, apart from a red-yellow-green rasta hat with fake dreads that he donned for a few songs.

Perry clearly enjoyed his reception, bantering with the audience between songs in his heavy Jamaican accent. He hopped around the stage while singing, reaching out and touching the hands of appreciative audience members without missing a beat. Twice he welcomed women onstage, first a worshipful college co-ed who danced close to him while he sang about looking for “someone to love,” then an older woman who looked a bit embarrassed but enjoyed Perry’s attention. When Perry’s foot got tangled (several times) in the microphone cable he was “rescued” by women in the front row. When he encouraged the crowd to clap along, the response was with fervor. When things got hot, he playfully flung water from a bottle onto the crowd.

Several times, Perry held up his lit lighter during a song, which was mimicked by those who just happened to have a lighter along with them. Incidentally, Perry claims to have quit smoking weed in an effort to find out if it was him, and not the dope, that was producing his music. (He concluded that it truly was him.) His lighter must just be a concert prop now?

Perry stayed in the groove for the almost-two-hour show, which is somewhat amazing for a performer who is 72 years old. He closed his main set with a cover of Marley’s ode-to-the-herb “Kaya,” and he returned for an encore wearing an ode-to-Jamaica jacket. As he waved goodnight to the wildly cheering crowd and left the stage, the band jammed their hardest, producing a thunderous sound that blew everyone away one last time.

In a world where many of reggae’s A-list stars have died prematurely — Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, King Tubby — it is a true blessing that Lee “Scratch” Perry has survived. Dance on, mon!

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB.

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