I stepped into the Hi-Fi on what could only be described as a bloody freezing night to find that the atmosphere inside was much the opposite. The ambience was warm and loving as I quickly grabbed a drink and made my way into the crowd.
You’d expect no less from a set from dub kings the Easy Star All Stars.
If you’re unfamiliar with the group (which wouldn’t be criminal as they’re a bit of a niche) Easy Star All Stars are a reggae-dub group from Jamaica who cover seminal albums from the last fifty or so years with a reggae twist. It all began just under ten years ago with Dub Side of the Moon (for those of you playing at home, that’s Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon). They followed it up, however, with a cover of Radiohead’s cult classic OK Computer (aka Radiodread). They took to the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers in Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band and this year they reworked Michael Jackson’s magnum opus, Thriller into Easy Star’s Thrillah.
And they do a pretty great job at it too, I might add.
Each cover album manages to capture the band’s (albeit with a rotating cast of musicians) laid-back lifestyle whilst maintaining the essence of what made these records truly great the first time around.
So when they opened with a classic rendition of Radiohead’s Electioneering, I was already in a very happy place. They moved into some work from Thrillah shortly after, with Wanna Be Startin’ Something getting the crowd dancing and swooning. Guitarist and vocalist Shelton Garner Jr. Beatles’ classic Lovely Rita was chock full of harmonies and kept the crowd swaying throughout the set. The band bopped along with us too, keeping themselves in sync as they swayed from left to right on a real jam.
The first real highlight though, came in the form of another Radiohead classic, Karma Police. When reggae-ified, this track turns into this uniting track with a powerful, optimistic nature when compared to the melancholic Radiohead version. It didn’t stop there. As the clock started ticking all around us, Pink Floyd’s Time was about to be broken down, and what became clear, as the band moved into Radiohead’s Climbing Up the Walls, was the incredible level of musicianship on display.
Pint-sized vocalist and keyboardist Elenna Canlas was, without a doubt, one of the most incredible vocalists I’ve ever heard, and Ras I Ray on the bass brought the funk and soul to the group. Before heading into the Beatles’ classic With a Little Help With My Friends, he let the crowd in on a little secret, whispering into the microphone that he had “indulged in a substance earlier” and that, although he didn’t need a little help from his friends to get high, he still wanted us to sing along. So we did. And it was beautiful. Certainly one of the best covers the band has produced.
Michael Jackson covers rounded out the rest of the main set, featuring Beat It, with lead guitar duties hand-balled masterfully to the brass section. But when the group closed with a delightfully chilled rendition of Thriller, the crowd were left wanting more.
When the band came back on for two more songs, there were two obvious gaps in the set so far – they were filled, don’t you worry.
Billie Jean had the whole band bopping up and down before moving into Pink Floyd’s Money, which saw the whole band getting very funky, a vibe which was imprinted onto the crowd as they made their way out of the venue.
It’s that infectious quality that makes this band so spectacular. They just know how to work a crowd into their state of ease and euphoria, Easy Star Style.