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Paul Mann: Rebelution Plays Triumphant Two-Night Concert Series

Santa Barbara reggae band brings its national tour to the Majestic Ventura Theater

Santa Barbara’s most successful reggae band returned to the Tri-Counties for two nights of concerts at the Majestic Ventura Theater as part of their mostly sold-out national tour. Last weekend’s concerts drew a huge following of loyal local fans for the Wintergreen tour, featuring Rebelution, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and Orgone, and a packed house of reggae fans danced in the cavernous theater for nearly four hours.

Opening act Orgone is actually not a reggae band at all, but a classic funky soul and gospel genre band. The nine-piece core band features a funky rhythm section, a jazzy percussion section, a three-piece soulful horn section and Fanny Franklin, a fiery soul singer. The band can also feature as many guest performers as there are members in the band, much like the rotating lineup in a Thievery Corporation concert.

The band tore through a fast and loud classic 40-minute set of soulful music. Orgone, which takes its name from a mythical theory of organic energy developed in the 1930s by psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, has been honing their unique musical style for nearly a decade and seems poised to be one of the breakout indie bands of 2011.

East Coast-based reggae band Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad took the stage next. GPGDS, from Rochester, N.Y., has amassed a large fan base on the East Coast and toured relentlessly during the past several years. The group, which plays roots reggae mixed with multiple levels of experimental dub sounds, may have more in common with jam bands than traditional reggae groups. The group made a stop on their tour with Australia’s The Beautiful Girls in Santa Barbara last year. Exhibiting their versatility, the band played a more traditional show during an afternoon slot at the West Beach Music Festival. But in a club set at the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club later in the evening, the group indulged dub fans with an improvised experimental set.

GPGDS, who pride themselves on never playing the same set twice, is fast becoming a star on the live reggae circuit. During their hour set Sunday night, the band exhibited the range of their skills, from traditional roots reggae beats to experimental jams engineered by their master sound technicians. The band’s five masterful musicians weave layers of complex music within a reggae framework and may be one of the most diverse bands in the genre.

All of the members sing, but the bulk of lead vocals are passed between guitar player Dylan Savage and bass player James Searl. The fans responded loudly to the band’s different tempos with cheering, clapping and dancing, even though most in the crowd were unfamiliar with the music.

Backstage, after their set, the band mixed with a small army of young female guests of Rebelution and other musicians, in a sweet-scented haze in their dressing room. The girls quickly retreated after the beer ran out and musicians from the three bands were able to talk shop.

When Rebelution finally appeared onstage, a thunderous cheer echoed off the theater walls. The band, which began as an Isla Vista college party band seven years ago, has become one of the biggest reggae acts in the country, playing to huge sell-out crowds from coast to coast. From the backstage view, a sea of hands and swaying bodies appeared in the crowd. The band had the crowd singing the chorus from the first song, and a sweaty explosion of reggae dancing took over the floor.

Shortly into the set, the band asked some of the members of Orgone to join them, adding another dimension to the music with horns and percussion. The band triumphantly played a 90-minute set, loud and clear, encouraging sing-alongs throughout the night. Toward the end of the night, Rebelution asked Searl of GPGDS to join them. Searl, sounding a lot like a young Sting, helped whip the crowd into an arm-waving frenzy.

Nearly four hours after the music began, Rebelution played an encore to a tumultuous crowd of sweaty reggae fans — none of whom seemed ready to go home.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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