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The Players Dub

Mikey Dread, Lithuanian Hall, Aug. 27

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Guy in the Hall: Mikey Dread failed to let meager attendance at his Lithuanian Hall show dampen his spirit.

By Ryan Boddy | Posted 9/1/2004

Despite playing to a Lithuanian Hall no better attended than an Olympic handball preliminary, legendary producer and TV and radio host Mikey Dread (nee Michael Campbell) managed to remain in control as he got attendees up front and dancing to dub tracks he’s been producing for almost 30 years.

The regrettable turnout led Dread to start late, nearly an hour after the opening act, which had done its best to warm up the less-than-a-crowd. Nevertheless, he appeared onstage after a lengthy intro by his band, all smiles.

Backed up by a solid septet, Dread piled through a short but sweet set of original tunes inflected with very recognizable rhythms from the likes of artists he has both produced and championed on his Dread at the Controls radio show, which started in the ’70s as the Jamaican Broadcasting Co.’s first show to focus on local music rather than imported American records.

The upbeat set breezed through politically conscious songs from Dread’s 2002 Rasta in Control, with a focus on the A-side sound eschewing the more atmospheric dub plate style associated with his B-sides. His horn duo deftly interplayed with the rhythm section while Dread crooned atop the heavily layered mix.

Lacking the obvious dub experimentation most attached to his name, the set mixed bass and horn lines from classic dubs into extensions of Dread’s own songs, a veritable FAQ for the uninitiated fan and an extension of his role as the man who introduced Jamaican style to much of the world. These insertions pointed to Dread’s past powers and eclectic résumé, including his experience producing for the Clash such dub cuts as “Bank Robber” in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and collaborations with perennial Massive Attack guest vocalist Horace Andy.

His ability to bridge gaps between basic, vanilla reggae, the more eccentric and challenging dub, and the raw energy of dub-inflected punk (a genre not represented in last Friday’s performance) makes Dread an instructor as much as an innovator. And the variety of ways he expresses his obvious knowledge of the music’s history makes him a capable professor of his particular style. His songs are politically charged but not pedantic, spiritual without proselytizing, carrying on a traditional theme in reggae and dub that’s particularly relevant in these times.

Dread’s cheerful and enthusiastic delivery, and the multilayered musicianship of his band, made the evening enjoyable despite the excess elbow room. The lucky few did their best to fill the void with movement, but to little effect. This was yet another should-have-been event that Baltimoreans failed to attend in favor of rehashed dance nights and cheap beer buzzes.

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