Toots and the Maytals
Oct. 24, 2007
By Grant Britt
If you think reggae is dead, you need help. As a capacity crowd at Neighborhood Theatre last week can attest, Toots Hibbert has what you need to fix what ails you.
You can’t go and just watch. Toots won’t allow it. You’re part of the show from the minute he sets foot on stage.
“I’m the teacher, and you are my students," he told the crowd. He started off the lesson with Otis Reddings’ “Pain In My Heart,” making soul converts of the youthful crowd, most of whom weren’t even born until after Otis had already passed on.
“Pressure Drop,” brought to these shores in ’71 with the release of the movie The Harder They Come, is also from before many of these folks’ time, but they knew the words and sang along.
“Time Tough” got a similar response, but Toots stopped to offer instruction on how to punctuate his protest song. “You got to make a fist,” he told his would-be rebels, instructing them on how to pump their clenched fists above their heads to illustrate his “higher and higher” call-and-response chorus, bumping fists with the audience after they got his black power salute down.
Toots looks prosperous, sporting a bit of a paunch, but his arms are bulked up to Mike Tyson size. His voice is as magnificent as ever, as he demonstrated on one a cappella verse on “Pomps and Pride,” still hitting all the high notes sweet and clear, his voice unspoiled by decades of husky soul shouting.
A Toots show is very interactive. He sings the verse, you do the chorus. You better do it right or he'll stop the show and go over it with you until you get it.
This is the best touring band he’s had in recent years. And for the first time, Toots is in the band as well as out in front of it. Unless you’ve seen photos of him from the '60s holding an acoustic guitar, you might not have known he plays, but he wrote most of his big hits by working them out on guitar.
He’s no Eddie Van Halen, but he strums an acoustic pretty good, and judging by the big grin on his face, he obviously enjoys trading licks with the band. He led a reworked, stripped-down version of “Funky Kingston” on acoustic guitar that still was funky as hell.
He put down the guitar for the John Denver /Toots anthem “Take Me Home Country Roads,” accompanying it with a hilarious combination of James Brown/Michael Jackson/Mick Jagger funky dance steps.
Toots has found his own new anthem with “Light Your Light,” from the new album of the same name. When Toots hits the “Light Your Light” chorus, this crowd held up actual lighters in a retro tribute to what audiences did to illuminate their appreciation of a favorite tune in the pre-cell phone days before holding up lit-up cells replaced the custom.
Strangely, he didn’t do what are gonna be big hits from his latest record, a rockin’ reggae version of Ray Charles’ “I Gotta Woman” that sounds like it came off the '80s Toots in Memphis record, and a version of “Premature” with Bonnie Raitt that has more soul than the original
But they’re both there on the record to listen to any time, and, as befits his “never get weary yet” motto, Toots’ll be back soon to do ‘em live. I’ll there be there every time, and if you know what’s good for you, so will you.