“Hey DJ can you play that song?/Set the mood for me to hold a different energy”
BILLED as Tarrus Riley and the Blak Soil Band this show centred around the interplay between the rich-toned vocalist and band leader Dean Fraser.
The acclaimed saxophonist welcomed the headliner to the stage with a funky rendition which indicated for all Riley’s catalogue of love songs – and female admirers jammed into the 02 – there would be no letting up for the May Day Bank Holiday crowd.
The recently turned 37-year-old Riley has built a reputation as one of contemporary reggae’s most popular singers and an act who has regularly toured the UK in recent years. But his only crossover with mainstream UK pop is 2015’s ‘Powerful’ recorded as a feature with Major Lazer and Ellie Goulding.
Despite Riley’s standing, and Bristol being a familiar stop for Jamaican touring acts, it was the lively performance of ‘Powerful’ and its chorus of “there’s an energy” that seemed to galvanise the Monday, May 2 crowd. Surprisingly it seemed a portion were new fans rather than long time devotees. Or possibly performed as a live reggae song ‘Powerful’ has a new energy that excited long-term fans?
The charismatic Riley, dressed all in black including a fedora, was soon part of a lively back and forth with 58-year-old Fraser. The saxophonist, the wind-power behind Jamaican classics from the late 70s onwards, would play a riff as a cue for Riley to run through a selection of reggae hits from his peers.
The pair also paid tribute to Riley’s father Jimmy, who died in March, performing Love and Devotion one of a number of songs the singer had a hit with during the 1970s and 80s as a solo artist and as a member of The Sensations and The Uniques.
Riley was then joined by support act Assassin aka Agent Sasco for a version of the jailed roots star Buju Banton’s ‘Untold Stories’ in tribute to their “favourite reggae artist”.
If anyone was unaware of Riley’s reggae pedigree or showmanship they were left in no doubt during his hour and 20 or so minutes rocking from left to right on stage. Riley saved his signature anthems ‘She’s Royal’, on which he was reduced to conducting the crowd, and ‘Gimme Likkle One Drop’ for the home stretch. The contrasting crowd favourites demonstrate how Riley’s output crosses from lovers to roots and dancehall.But the show, which also included a downtempo reflection on Riley’s Rasta faith, was peppered with examples of why he is one of the most heartfelt singers of love songs. Riley moves from being almost sickly sweet on ‘123 I Love You’ to masterful when singing Robin Thicke’s ‘Superman’, an insipid song without Riley’s commanding vocal.
During his half hour PA Assassin showcased tracks from his new ‘Theory of Reggaetivity’ album. The to-the-point DJ also performed breakthrough hit ‘Idiot Ting Dat’ and ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ after reminding the crowd though “there was a big announcement in 2008 that there’s a worldwide recession” we’ve yet to be told it’s over.
The first singer on stage however was Cardiff’s Aleighcia Scott who warmed the crowd up running through a selection of reggae hits and remakes and her self-penned ‘My Baby’ on Richie Spice’s riddim of the same name. Also crossing the bridge to Bristol was Cardiff’s Love & Harmony Sounds, one of a number of sounds keeping the crowd moving throughout, while Bristol soundman Scrapilus’ cheeky mic patter also had them laughing.