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Not to sound like too much of a nostalgic old-timer, but reggae music just ain't what it used to be. Today's dancehall-centric upbeat-swinging reggae is mostly composed on cheesy synths and lacks the bass-heavy thump of yesteryear. The 1970s were arguably the genre's golden years, with artists like Steel Pulse and Black Uhuru dominating sound systems, but the early '80s had its share of heavyweights as well. Two films, newly issued to DVD, document this period from two different perspectives; one film takes place in its midst and the other documents the revival of band from the time. Although made with different focuses, both films provide snapshots of a bygone era, a time when artists filled with soul and vigor were still running the game.
The better of the two reissues, Vintage Reggae Bash: Brooklyn 1983 is a concert film documenting a reggae festival held at the New York borough's Empire Roller Skating Center - the DVD's title gets it right on, as it is hard to get much more vintage than a roller skating rink. As one might imagine the audio is sort of sub par (shot on "state of the art video equipment from the time", according to the press release, with an emphasis on 'from the time'), but the concert energy is hi-fi as Delroy Wilson proves himself a showman rivaling Al Green, while Max Romeo floats over dubby slow-motion grooves. When examining both the style and substance of a 1983 reggae gig I would be remiss not to mention the gear these guys rock - leather jackets over T-shirts, low-cut Afros and natty dreads, white sport coats paired with rose-tinted aviators. Aloof visionaries, the reggae stars of two decades ago had no idea young white hipsters would be rocking the same attire in 2007. At over 130 minutes, this DVD is probably a bit more "vintage reggae bash" than one needs, but it's a treasure trove of music for die-hard fans.
The second DVD issued from MVD is Musical Youth: Live in the UK, a film which follows an updated version of a band that was popular in the early '80s as they keep at it, doing their best to keep traditional reggae alive. This hour-long concert was filmed in Somerset, United Kingdom in the summer of 2006, and it finds Musical Youth full of cheesy, feel-good cheer, especially when performing its version of Herman's Hermits' "I'm Into Something Good" or "Pretty Woman." Musical Youth aren't exactly young anymore, but they do rock the crowd and the stage with a vigor fit for the narrator of their hit "Sixteen," a rocksteady song they ride with a lazy swing. When they bring out "007" and, of course, "Pass the Dutchie," if you close your eyes, you can almost imagine it's 1982 again.
From roots to revival, these two DVDs are worthy entrants into the canon of reggae concert films, small as that may be. Whether you're interested in taking a trip back in time to sweaty dance floors of 25 years ago or you're leaning towards seeing what bands from that era are up to now, these should satisfy any yearning you may have for live reggae in the comfort of your living room, and then some. SEE ALSO: www.mvdb2b.com
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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