The tide may finally be turning for reggae in America. The crowd that packed the Palace on Tuesday to hear the English band Aswad was a mixture of blacks and whites, longtime roots reggae fans and newer enthusiasts--just the kind of healthy blend that has eluded reggae in this country. And for the most part, Aswad showed that it deserves a wide following.
If Ziggy Marley has ascended as reggae's crown prince, Aswad is its court jester. With animated singer/guitarist Brinsley Forde leading the way, the Palace show was heavy on such shtick as freeze-frame posing, call-and-response audience participation, musicians shuffling across the stage en masse--and that was just the first five minutes.
That sort of thing continued throughout the 90-minute show, accented by such lowbrow gestures as throwing in snatches of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (during the slinky ballad "Don't Turn Around," a recent English chart-topper) and "Jailhouse Rock," and the use of the "Batman" theme as the basis of an encore instrumental.
Behind the crowd-pleasing clowning was some strong material, which ultimately won out over the antics. Aswad's music is a rock/soul/reggae blend similar to that of UB40. Its forte is the melodic ballads on which drummer Drummie Zeb stepped out to take the lead vocal.