Lee “Scratch” Perry Concert Review

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I had the pleasure of seeing Lee “Scratch” Perry perform at Sonar last night, and the legend did not disappoint.

For those of you in need of a history lesson, Perry was an influential and prolific figure in early ska and reggae, first working as a producer for Coxsone Dodd, then going out on his own with The Black Ark.  During his years as a producer, he was responsible for signing and producing tracks for such artists as Max Romeo, The Heptones, and even three Bob Marley records.  His production innovations became much of the basis for ‘dub’ reggae, and he is rightfully considered the Godfather of the genre.

Opening for Perry was H.R., frontman for Bad Brains.  H.R. is apparently currently living in Baltimore, which is likely why his Human Rights Band doesn’t have any other dates scheduled.

H.R. is infamous for onstage antics, and while I’d expected him to have mellowed out some over the years, I expected a little bit more energy.  The band played music very similar to Bad Brains, mostly hard punk with the occasional reggae bridge, and two or three straight reggae songs.  The music was good, but I was not blown away.

Finally, around 11pm, Perry’s band started playing.  They played for about six minutes before septuagenarian Scratch ambled onstage, covered in shiny buttons and rings, and wearing a hat with lit incense sticks poking out of it.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, not being extremely familiar with his solo work; I went to the show based on his production work.  However, this turned out to be a non-issue, as most of the songs pretty much sounded the same, with his (extremely tight) backing band keeping up a thick rhythm, while Perry dropped unintelligible lyrics into the mic.  That’s not to say that his lyrics didn’t make sense (although they did not), but rather, it was a mash of reverb-soaked patois and non-words.

The essence of the show was the production, unsurprisingly, and it excelled.  The swirling rhythms kept the crowd moving, and his echoing vocals united the vibe.  Though I didn’t know any of the songs, the simple melodies made it easy to keep up.

He played for almost two hours, including his three-song encore, and unfortunately, he kept his trademark gibberish to a minimum.  I was hoping for some irrelevant babble, but all he gave me was a brief diatribe about vegetarianism.  I guess senility works backwards with crazies?

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One Response to “Lee “Scratch” Perry Concert Review”

  1. Wow! H.R. lives in Baltimore. That’s great. You should try and track him down. Pay to C*m is one of the best songs ever. I met the drummer from Bad Brains a while back in Atlanta. He was a bit distant (or high). I hear H.R.’s some kind of super vegan. Probably moved here to be closer to Ian Mckaye.
    Great post.

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