"Forgive me -- I'm not at my best today," says Calderon, Puerto Rican guitarist for South Florida's Fourth Dimension. "I still feel lousy."
It's late afternoon, and New Times is on the phone discussing Culture's recent concert in Fort Lauderdale, where 4-D was the opening act. The rest of this reggae/fusion outfit includes Miami-born vocalist Steve McGowan, who boasts the longest locks in the group. Nicknamed "Jah Steve," he's also the quartet's bass player. Keyboardist Pierre Arnau (born in New York to Argentine parents but raised in Puerto Rico) is at home with percussion oddities like the Flexatone and Vibraslap. All four members of this Broward County team pitch in backing vocals, including drummer Ilich "Drummie" Budnevich, who originally hails from Chile.
These three dreads and their clean-cut brother (Budnevich) have performed consistently in bars since joining forces in 2000. Before that, Calderon, Arnau, and Budnevich worked together as Perfect Harmony, operating sans an official bass player; McGowan filled in occasionally before becoming a full-time addition.
"We started out doing Bob Marley covers in the early days," explains Calderon, the band's de facto spokesman. "When Steve joined us, he came from a background where he'd done a lot of session work and jammed with the likes of [Jamaican singer] Derrick Morgan. For Pierre, groups like Culture and Israel Vibration influenced him also." With their impressive multiculti background, the quartet adopted the Fourth Dimension name. According to Calderon, "Dimension is everything -- it's the height, the width, the breadth. It's about the plane of reality."
Luckily, 4-D hasn't found its rise to the top of the bar scene to be difficult. "Man, there was a lot of work involved in getting started and pulling our material together, but after that, it was plain sailing," Calderon volunteers. "We have a great mixed fan base too: a Latin crew, Caribbeans, and a Caucasian following, so we must be doing something right. I think we've mastered the bar scene now. I don't mean that in a bragging sense, but we've done it all now. We feel what the punters want to hear and play it. If they're in a dancing mood, then we make them dance."
The band's live repertoire contains massive amounts of positive, uplifting dance-party vibes. As they bounce from song to song at Club Atlantis on Fort Lauderdale Beach, each member wears a seemingly cemented smile. Tonight, set opener "King's Highway" introduces 4-D's earthbound rootsiness. Moving across the waters to Trinidad comes the catchy ditty "Around the World." Introducing a totally different beat, the tune intends to transport the crowd to a high-season carnival with soca stylings attached.
Then come deep-heritage island sounds, which warn of the "Land of Confusion" (lyrics courtesy Phil Collins-helmed Genesis) and the haunting vocals of "Real Love," with a beat swiped from the late 1970s reggae heyday. Later still, the mix swirls colorfully where Jamaica meets South America on "Cha Cha." Close your eyes and you could very well be listening to the legendary Steel Pulse or the cultural messengers of Third World -- a group 4-D has opened for as well.
"It's been an honor to work with so many big names, including the Marley brothers, Culture, and Third World," Calderon raves. "And we get the similarities to our music drawn too, which is only natural, as some of them are our influences. But we're not trying to follow anyone or what they're doing. We are our own people."