“Is the party in Albany tonight?”
Well, gee, Shaggy, I’m not sure. The party may have been in Albany on Thursday night, but here in Buffalo, we were too busy standing in the pouring rain waiting for your Canalside set to begin for us to truly know.
Strike two was when you failed to hear the clearly audible signal from your bandmate – “We’re in Buffalo, man!” – and exuberantly demanded to know, “Albany, are you tired?”
If we weren’t, we should’ve been. Tired of sad acts like the one that headlined a soggy Canalside on Thursday evening. The sort of acts that find it wholly acceptable to offer watered-down versions of deep strains of music, fuse it with tired top 40 tropes, and throw in a whole lotta “Where are my ladies at tonight?” in an attempt to cover for a complete lack of substance.
Shaggy was truly terrible. He is to reggae what Celine Dion is to heavy metal. As in, completely unrelated.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.
Thursday’s show – the official debut of the 2014 free Thursday summer concert season at Canalside – was plagued from the get-go by terrible weather. By 5 p.m., fans were gathering at the venue, prepared for what looked like it might’ve been some serious summer fun in spite of the clouds. By 5:45, those fans were drenched. The rain came, and with it some early thunder and lightning. But the torrents passed, and so, the show went on. Canalside shows will happen rain or shine – lightning is the only deciding factor when it comes to cancellation. On Thursday, the lightning left and didn’t come back. The rain was another story.
When opener DJ Milk – a Buffalo emcee who often works with his “Off the Grid” team – took the stage, the weather was calm and a strong crowd was assembling, immediately taking part in the initial stages of what would become a full-on mud party by evening’s end. Milk commanded the crowd while his DJ spun current hip-hop and pop hits, and did an excellent job getting the crowd – which was building, incredibly, by the minute – in the mood.
Then, the skies opened. There was nowhere to hide, and everyone got completely soaked, save the folks hanging in the VIP tent in the rear of the venue. The party continued, though, and it is to DJ Milk’s credit that he and his crew kept spirits high.
Somewhat incongruously – but blessedly so – New Orleans second line brass band the Soul Rebels followed DJ Milk’s set, and delivered a stellar hour of serious soul, funk, jazz and hip-hop, NOLA-style. The crowd got into it, too, despite the fact that this authentic and deeply virtuosic music was a far cry from that of the headliner that, presumably, most of them had come to see.
The full Soul Rebels horn section had no problem introducing elements of hip-hop, pop, soul, funk, and even Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into the mix, delivering all of it as if it were the most natural dance music in the world. In New Orleans, it is. And in Buffalo, the predominantly teenaged audience was offered a taste of some deep American music, and they sure seemed to dig it.
Shaggy, on the other hand, offered a direct conduit to most of what’s wrong with modern radio pop. He is a Jamaican-American artist whose initial forays into pop stardom favored Jamaican Dancehall and reggae-flavored pop tunes, as evidenced by hits like “Boombastic” and “Angel.”
He took to the stage at Canalside with the query, “Where are my reggae people at?,” a reasonable enough question if you happen to be playing reggae. Shaggy really wasn’t, though. Despite the backing of an actual band of human musicians – all of whom were clearly talented, but still came off like a bunch of gifted musicians playing “We Are Family” at a wedding – Shaggy leaned on other people’s songs, when he wasn’t offering a watered-down version of Jamaican Dancehall and “toasting.” He shoved his own lyrics atop the Chip Taylor tune “Angel of the Morning” – made most famous in a version by Juice Newton – and elsewhere borrowed Marvin Gaye’s genius to support his own apparent lack thereof.
This was not good.
What actually was impressive, however, was the fortitude of the Buffalo audience, whose members braved some seriously dire weather in order to make the first show of the Canalside free season a good one. Thumbs up for DJ Milk and the incredible Soul Rebels. But Shaggy? Next time you come back, try to remember where you are. We forgive around here, but we don’t forget.