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Saturday Night: Yellowman at Respectable Street Cafe, West Palm Beach

with Spred the Dub
Respectable Street Cafe, West Palm Beach
Saturday, June 27, 2009

Better Than: Discovering sticky hydroponically grown sensimilla in your backyard.

The Review:

Deep rub-a-dubbing reggae in legendary West Palm Beach rock haunt Respectable Street? Why not? After all, "King" Yellowman's explicitly sexual dancehall verses pushed the envelope back in the early '80s and took reggae in a drastically new direction. And that's pretty punk rock as far as I'm concerned, so the venue made sense.

Local dub enthusiasts Spred the Dub were the ideal choice to warm up the crowd this evening. STD's rootsy rocksteady grooves proved to be as infectious as, well, a highly transmittable STD. (Pardon the pun, but it's rather on point for the night.) Frontman Mickey Vintage delivers slick, smooth vocals that reverberate perfectly over his percussive rhythm guitar playing and his quartet's psychedelic-tinged reggae. And lead guitarist Boris Fingermon added an improvisational flair to each tune.

Besides playing some tasty originals, the boys pulled out a couple of fantastic covers: Bob Marly's  "Get Up, Stand Up" and Sublime's "Get Ready." The band made each of these songs its own, never sounding as traditional as Marley nor as ska-punk-ish as Sublime. That's probably why STD is so damn catchy; they really have carved out their own spacey-reggae-with-a-rock-kick.

Not long after Spred the Dub finished, Yellowman's backing band of seasoned reggae veterans, the Sagittarius Band, began assembling their instruments on stage, Guinness in hand. And then, without warning, they burst into a deep, off-beat instrumental melody. After about five minutes, the albino dancehall king himself, Yellowman, jumped onstage, dancing convulsively to the band's steady rhythm.

Yellowman, born Winston Foster, is a bundle of energy on stage. And, with his albino complexion and facial reconstruction job done as a result of his jaw cancer, he cuts a striking figure. Dressed like he was gearing up for a pick-up basketball game, Yellow frantically jogged in place or danced one leg up at a time.

These days, his delivery is somewhat slower and more gargled than it used to be, but rest assured, Yellowman's infamous snarky attack is intact. He has really toned down on the misogyny and homophobia of his rhymes, though. Instead, now he offers up socially responsible messages -- like the importance of protecting one's wang, which he did on "Yo Yo/Bombastic (Use Your Rubber Rubber)". "If you don't protect this [signal crotch grab], it will fall off," he preached.

Midway through the two-hour marathon set, he took a break from the dancehall beats, and announced that the next song was dedicated to "those couples who are never going to marry and those who will be soon be divorced." Then he broke into a Rastafari bluesy cover of Fats Domino classic "Blueberry Hill" -- it was actually more on point than it sounds on paper.

No Yellowman performance is complete without a zingy rendition of "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng." Every single person in the now near capacity Respectable Street had their hips swaying to this often-sampled number. He followed that one up with a saucy rendition of "Yellow Like Cheese," which led into a bouncy ode to his Jamaica homeland, "Jamaica Nice".

Finally, he ended the show with some more words of wisdom: "Music don't have no racial barrier." Witnessing the crowd of all ages, shapes, sizes and colors shaking their posteriors in unison to Yellowman's songs, I'd have to say the man's got a point.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: To quote Mr. Marvin Gaye, "Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby."

Random Detail: Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Mos Def, and KRS-One all borrowed the basic rhythm from Yellow's hit "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng."

By The Way: If you are bummed out you missed the show, pick up a copy of Yellowman's unbelievable live album, 1998's Live at Maritime.

-- Alex Rendon

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