Lee Scratch Perry, Subatomic Sound System at Commodore Ballroom

Thursday 22nd, September 2016 / 14:38
By Gabriel Klein
Lee Scratch Perry at Commodore Ballroom. Photo: Galen Robinson-Exo

Lee Scratch Perry at Commodore Ballroom.
Photo: Galen Robinson-Exo

September 15, 2016

VANCOUVER — In the world of dubwise and system music there is probably no name more revered than Lee Scratch Perry. As one of the pioneers of dub, the 80-year old living legend was instrumental in creating the sound that would eventually be the basis for much of modern bass music. In recent years Lee Scratch Perry has been touring with Subatomic Sound, a dub trio from New York consisting of a selecta, a drummer and a saxophonist. Due to Lee Scratch Perry’s reputation for eccentricity and his enduring musical legacy I had high expectations for this show, especially since the dubwise scene in Vancouver is somewhat lacking. Sure enough, it ended up being a night full of reverb, bassweight, weed smoke and good vibes.

Lee Scratch Perry at Commodore Ballroom. Photo: Galen Robinson-Exo

Lee Scratch Perry at Commodore Ballroom.
Photo: Galen Robinson-Exo

From the moment the selecta stepped on stage you could tell this would be a show in the vein of traditional soundsystem music. I had absolutely never before heard the Commodore’s powerful PA being pushed to such a volume. The bass was absolutely overwhelming, especially off to the side in the front, where I spent most of the night skanking away. After the first two tunes the selecta in turn introduced the drummer and the saxophonist, both of whom supplied additional texture on top of the classic dub riddims throughout the night. The selecta himself got busy using a melodica and adding reverb to absolutely every sound coming out the speakers.

After getting the crowd sufficiently exited, the man himself was introduced. Wearing what can only be described as an ornate Rastafarian military garb, Lee Scratch Perry sauntered onstage clutching the most intricately decorated microphone I have ever seen. The four men wasted no time in getting started, laying down the whole of Lee Scratch Perry’s Super Ape, front to back. The highlight for me was the absolutely iconic Dread Lion just growling out of the speaker stacks. The chief Upsetter spent the whole night walking back and forth onstage, not quite talking, not quite singing into his microphone, his already thick patois being made almost unintelligible by the heavy reverb applied to it. An absolute delight for dubwise lovers, the only criticism I could level at the performance was the lack of back-up vocalists, which could really have given the show some extra energy. As it was the show started dragging on a bit at the end, with the 80-year old veteran sometimes struggling to match the energy of the recordings, which to be honest are already on the more reserved end of the dub spectrum. A quick search on YouTube confirmed that in fact the stage show usually does include backup singers. However, in the grand scheme of things this did not take away from the absolutely meditative quality of the experience.

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