November 18, 2004

Sly and Robbie lay down reggae riddim
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

How cool are Sly and Robbie? Too cool for words.

During their three-hour performance at The Paradise on Tuesday, Sly and Robbie were so immersed in their funky reggae rhythm that they didn't say a single word. Instead, the live drum and bass duo laid down a danceable groove while an all-star lineup of guest appearances controlled the microphones.

Drummer Lowell "Sly" Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare have been pioneers in reggae music for decades. Robbie played the bass on Bob Marley's "Stir It Up" and worked with Sly alongside Mick Jagger and Pete Tosh. Tuesday's show was the last stop on the pair's 25th anniversary celebration tour.

Sly, who earned his nickname by listening to Sly & the Family Stone while growing up, revolutionized reggae music in the early '90s by embracing the electronically programmed beats that became ragamuffin, or ragga for short. The group's beats provide the background for plenty of modern reggae dancehall, including the hit "Murder She Wrote" by Chaka Demus and Pliers.

Back in the day, the duo literally lived off only bread and water while touring in order to save up enough money to start their label, Taxi Productions, which they launched featuring the breakthrough of Black Uhuru.

During the show, Sly picked his drumsticks back up and proved he's still an amazing drummer despite his new role as a beat producer. His fast-paced syncopated rhythms were so intricate and complicated that they sounded as if Sly had produced them on his drum machine.

Robbie roamed the stage plucking away at his bass, flirting with college girls in the front row, and clowning with his silent partner sitting at the drums.

While Sly and Robbie took care of the rhythm and beat, guest singers rotated onstage to accompany the reggae legends. Keyboards, saxophone, and trombone comprised the rest of the backing band for Tony Rebel, who has been touring for nearly as long as Sly and Robbie. Rebel brought his Rastafarian dancehall groove into the mix along with sultry singer Blue Fox. Half Pint was the final act, bringing a bit of youth into a show dominated by aging, but still rocking, old-school reggae stars.

At no point did Sly and Robbie drop the beat for even a moment's rest, leaving the dancing crowd satisfied but exhausted by the night's end. Robbie ended the show with a bass solo so impressively dirty that he stared at his own hands with a disgusted look on his face.

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