Live Review: Sting and Shaggy

Sting and Shaggy at the Tabernacle, AtlantaTwo music legends — British rocker Sting and reggae superstar Shaggy — teamed up in 2018 for a new album, followed by a tour, which made its stop in Atlanta Monday night, September 17 at The Tabernacle. While very different performers, they aren’t so stylistically separate as you might at first think. The Police, the band that brought Sting to global prominence in the early 80s, had strong reggae leanings. Partnering with Shaggy at this point in his career brings him back to his reggae roots.

The 44/876 album was released on April 20 (very appropriately 420, being a Reggae album). The title represents a bridging of two different cultures — “44” being the international dialing code for the United Kingdom and “876” being the area code for Jamaica. That spirit of unity was evident throughout the evening on Monday, with the two artists sharing the spotlight and adding their distinctive flair to each other’s songs in the two-hour (almost to the minute) set. 

Sting and Shaggy at the Tabernacle, Atlanta

Setting the tone for the rest of the show was the surprisingly bouncy opener, Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” with Shaggy taking a verse to sing about being a “Jamaican in New York.” From there the small but incredibly tight band launched into the first two tracks from 44/876, the excellent title track and the breezy “Morning is Coming”.

Sting was most definitely the dominant presence, with almost half the setlist pulled from his massive back catalog of both solo and Police singles, plus him singing lead and playing bass on all the songs from 44/876. One of the most rewarding things about this tour is seeing a Sting that, away from his normal role as solo artist, was looser, much more casual, joking around with Shaggy and just being “one of the blokes” for a change. But while Sting was rooted mostly to one spot by microphone and pedals, Shaggy was free to prowl the stage, trading vocal licks with Sting, interacting with the musicians, hyping up the crowd, and thrusting his pelvis with every “boom boom boom.” And while he may not have Sting and Shaggy at the Tabernacle, Atlantathe extensive resume of hits that Sting has, his career was still well represented with songs that the audience knew and sang along to. 

Some of the show’s best moments came when songs from different sources were unexpectedly paired up or combined. Shaggy’s “Oh Carolina” segued effortlessly into Sting’s “We’ll Be Together”, while Sting’s “Love is the Seventh Wave” dovetailed seamlessly into “To Love and Be Loved” from 44/876. The show’s finale was a crowd-pleasing mashup of Police classic “Roxanne” with Shaggy’s 1995 smash, “Boombastic”. The show was very low on theatrics, relying solely on great music being played by a great band. The centerpiece of the show, however,  was the song “Crooked Tree” from 44/876, a dialogue between judge and convict. On stage, a uniformed policeman sequestered Sting, had him don the black and white striped garb of a prisoner, while Shaggy took the stage in judge’s robe, white wig and gavel. It was a playful moment for an otherwise somber song. 

Along the way, the group featured seven of the songs from the new album, all of which translated easily to a live setting with great energy and infectious hooks, and even if some audience members hadn’t picked up the album yet, the songs are so easily accessible (as my buddy Josh says, “they’re catchy as hell”) that no one would have felt left behind by them. And even then, it would only be a song or two before another well-known tune came along, like “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”, “Angel”, “Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic”, “Strength of a Woman”, “Message in a Bottle”, “So Lonely” or “Hey Sexy Lady.” The pair paid homage to their reggae roots by name-Sting and Shaggy at the Tabernacle, Atlantachecking Bob Marley in the song “44/876” and by performing that most anthemic of reggae tunes, “Get Up, Stand Up”.

Special recognition must be given to the band behind the two front men. A combination of members from both artists’ touring bands — ‪Dominic Miller (guitar), ‪Josh Freese‬‬‬ (drums) and Rufus Miller (guitar) from Sting’s band, and Melissa Musique (backing vocals), Gene Noble (backing vocals) and Kevon Webster (keyboards) from Shaggy’s entourage. Melissa and Gene were both lead singer material and put on a show all their own with their dancing, and both were given moments in the spotlight at the foot of the stage for solo bits. As a drummer myself, I particularly enjoyed watching Freese’s expert playing, a technically proficient drummer with a subtle and very musical touch. He took the opportunity to let loose in the post-chorus transitions in The Police’s “Walking on the Moon.” In addition to being superb players, the two guitarists playfully interacted with the audience and the other band members. Only keyboardist Webster really didn’t have much of a featured presence in the show, getting overshadowed a bit by the more flamboyant performers.

After two hours of hit after hit, the evening wrapped up with two encore sets. The first featured Sting’s “Desert Rose”, Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”, and the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” The band took the stage one last time for a very quiet close to an otherwise rambunctious evening with a cover of Harry Belafonte’s “A Jamaican Farewell” and Sting’s “Fragile.” 

If you’ve not checked out 44/876, give it a listen on iTunes or Spotify, or pick up the CD. It’s a fabulous album of great grooves, positive messages, and contagious energy. And if you get the chance to see this show on another stop on the tour, go. You owe it to yourself. It’ll be one of the most fun nights you will have had in a long time.

Get more info and tour dates hereAnd check out 44/876 on Amazon.

CD Review: “Steppin’ Out” by Beauregard and the Downright

This summer, Beauregard and the Downright released their album Steppin’ Out, a ten track masterpiece that embodies the obscure balance between grit and grace. If you are not familiar with these guys, Beauregard and the Downright is a refreshing blend of folk and reggae with truly soulful southern undertones. These music craftsmen put their heart and soul into each of their performances and did no less for their first album. Steppin’ Out starts out with it’s cover art, as all albums do, but in this case the art houses its known capacity of a thousand words. The front of the album shows a young, tattered survivor shielding his vision away from a post-apocalyptic scene of exploding missiles wiping away any remains of civilization. But that’s just one perspective, which never yields the full picture. On the back of the album, we can see what has captured the lone survivor’s gaze, a scene of tranquility that escaped the self-destruction of mankind, a scene where peace has prevailed and the wonderment of nature roams free. The artwork foreshadows what is found within the tracks of the album, which is a brief, blissful escape from the crazy, chaotic life we all struggle with at the snail’s pace that is the ticking away of time.

Steppin Out starts off strong with the track “Death & Destruction”, a well composed reggae tango where the lead switches between an extremely catchy horn chorus and mellow vocals that capture the chiaroscuro of humanity with each passing verse. Following this solid start, there is a drastic shift in tone with the second track called “Falling in Love”, As done with their album art, Beauregard and the Downright shows that there is more than one perspective on life. From here, the album goes into some very soulful jams that keep it real with some more sick horn melodies and groovy yet gritty guitar rhythms that pair perfectly with the truth found in each songs’ lyrics. Holding down the middle of the album is the ballad “Atlanta Anthem”, a true look into the depths of Atlanta with the unexpected yet delightful strummings of a ukulele. The band even gives some shoutouts to some of the city’s hotspots such as the Old Fourth Ward and local venues that the band frequents, such as the iconic 529 in East Atlanta Village. However, these shoutouts aren’t just an homage to our wonderful city but help spin the tale that is Atlanta, a city of hustlers and players where sorrows are lost in the bottom of glasses and bliss is found within a night out on the town. More bumping tunes follow in the album, with each song full of new surprises to the ears, really showing the dedication that Beauregard and the Downright put into their first big impression in the music scene. There is even a skit thrown in about the ordinary struggles of ordering some good pizza. To close out Steppin’ Out, the band did a cover of “I Wanna Be Like You”, as best known from the movie The Jungle Book, with all of this track being a live studio session with portions that are stark tributes to the aforementioned movie. These guys can definitely say they went out swinging on this album.

Check out Steppin’ Out for yourself to see what all this hype is about. I really am looking forward to seeing, rather hearing, how Beauregard and the Downright tops their sophomore release.

CD Review: “Spüken” by Ninjaspy

 

Before I even knew their name, I found myself dumbfounded and adoring that Vancouver threesome known as Ninjaspy.  By mere happenstance, I witnessed them in concert and reveled at the tumultuous exhibition.  Here were three men, producing a monstrous sound, hurtling around the stage like crash test dummies.  I was sure of some horrible collision.  Yet, despite the energy that exploded from the stage, each man was in full control of the situation and his own musical prowess.  At the end of that concert, I went home and bought every piece of music the group had yet released.  To my delight, a new album is on the horizon for Ninjaspy: Spüken becomes available April 14.

Ninjaspy self-describe as “three blood brothers in a hook-laden metal fusion fist fight to the death,” and honestly, that’s not too far off.  When the word ‘fusion’ gets thrown around, it’s not always clear what is meant.  Most bands I know take fusion to mean possessing an element of jazz in their playing, and I can certainly think of at least one moment on this disc featuring a lounge-jazz respite.  However, given their back-catalog, as well as their live show, that fusion seems to more predominantly feature metal mixed with reggae!  An odd combination, to be sure, as metal is often viewed as technical and exact, while reggae brings to mind a laid-back attitude and a certain level of looseness. But Ninjaspy combine these two elements surprisingly well, keeping the listener fully engaged with this merger within their songs.

Spüken is Ninjaspy’s second full-length release, but third overall, coming after their debut, Pi Nature [LP, 2007], and later No Kata [EP, 2013].  It’s been quite a wait for their hungry fans, but this has given the group time to dial in the ten songs featured on this album to their liking.  The opening track, and lead single, “Speak,” is a great characterization of the rest of the album.  It can be loud and boisterous, but it has no issue backing down to allow the dynamics of low and high to truly shine.  And of course, all the songs feature an underbelly of groove for good measure.  I’m sure some of you are worried about exactly how much metal there is in this metal-reggae fusion.  Rest assured, Spüken leans for the most part into the metal spectrum, which just a touch of the other thrown in for flair.  In fact, it dials back the reggae significantly from what was witnessed on former releases, a little to my disappointment, as I felt some of the excursions from the metal realm could have been pressed a little further before returning to the brutality.

I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with this release thus far.  So many of the songs have a special little something that makes them stick in my mind, whether it is the endless and circular lick from “Brother Man,” the funk-filled “Jump Ya Bones,” or the ethereal-turned-energetic “Azaria” (also available in an acoustic version).  Perhaps my favorite song in terms of sheer contrast and dynamics is “What!!,” a track that begins so seriously and erupts into one of the kookiest choruses I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing.  While I’d highly recommend starting with Pi Nature and working your way forward to Spüken, simply to make sure you don’t miss out on treasures like “Hit By A Cement Mixer,” “Out Of Tampons,” and “Skaingkh (The Skank),” you honestly can’t go wrong here.  Spüken is a metal powerhouse, carefully crafted and expertly executed, quite unlike any reggae-infused album you’ve heard before.

 
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2016 SweetWater 420 Festival Coverage

The SweetWater 420 Festival returned to Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park on April 22 – 24 for the annual musical and beer festival for the ultimate SweetWater experience. From an all-star musical lineup of acts consisting of approximately 50 bands, ranging from The Roots, to The People’s Blue of Richmond to our very own Ludacris, the SweetWater 420 Festival was the place to be at with an amazing cross section of music from rock to R&B to hip-hop to bluegrass to electronica and indie all mixed together to give it the perfect vibe for a fantastic weekend. There was something for everyone to indulge in.

The music was hot and the beer was cold, especially in The SweetWater Experience Tent where you had the opportunity to taste test up to 40 distinct beers, sit down and listen to brew masters, then follow up with Q & A sessions afterwards. Plus there was always the chance of sitting down and having a beer or two with a band, like Leftover Salmon.

What makes the 420 Festival so special and such a huge part of Atlanta is it’s really more than just having a good time, yes, that is part of it, going out and having fun with friends, listening to some of your favorite artists perform live, but it’s also about being with people in a pretty cohesive environment and respecting the environment that we all share together. The saying at the festival is “we’re here for a good time, she’s here for a longtime” (referencing mother earth and to pay respect and homage to her).

Founder of The SweetWater Brewery said it best “When you love what you do, it’s not work.” And how could you not love the perfect weekend in spent in Atlanta being immersed in music, beer, amazing food and great works of art from local artists.

All photos by Danielle Boise for Target Audience Magazine.

 

Saturday, April 23 420 Festival Photography Coverage

Chrome Pony

North Mississippi Allstars

Maceo Parker

Tokyo Police Club

Dawes

The Word

Rebelution

The Roots

AWOLNATION

Bastille

The SweetWater Experience Tent

Atmospheric – This is what it’s like to be at The SweetWater 420 Festival. Filled with later, friends, beer and a great time.


Sunday, April 24 420 Festival Photography Coverage – photos by Danielle Boise

Leftover Salmon

People’s Blues of Richmond

Waking Astronomer

Voodoo Visionary

Manchester Orchestra

Nahko And Medicine For The People

Atmosphere

Michael Franti & Spearhead

The Bright Light Social Hour

Ludacris

Robert DeLong

Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

The SweetWater Experience Tent

Atmospheric – This is what it’s like to be at The SweetWater 420 Festival. Filled with later, friends, beer and a great time.