THE LO DOWN: The Aggrolites @ The Shattuck Down Low 6/13/10
Reggae in Berkeley is a redundancy — and smell, frankly — that I can only handle every-so-often. But whenÂ Los AngelesÂ five-pieceÂ The Aggrolites came into townÂ Sunday night, I strapped on my dancing shoes (those are flats, b-tches) to join the rest of the East Bay in the bowels of Shattuck Avenue for an evening of soul, grit, and in the band’s words, “dirty reggae.”
First up wereÂ Natives of the New Dawn, who were in the unfortunate position of opening act on a Sunday night and graced the stage atÂ 8:30pm(stillÂ light out, ouch). Coupled with zero publicity from the venue and the token solo jam-band dancer dude scaring the rest of the early crowd from moving forward, the Natives didn’t have much of a chance. The six-piece was dually fronted by an emcee and vocalist, their sound toggling between hip-hop and soul-rock — but the style landed a little too heavily in the adult contemporary sphere to hold the attention of the Aggro crowd. It is worth mentioning that singer Tony Nouhan is a soulful beast on the mic — that means good, grasshoppers — and aside from seeming generally out of their element, the band’s energy, banter, and musicianship is worth commending. Cheers. (And let Tony sing more.)
There was no sign of the school-night daze, however, whenÂ The Aggrolites hit the stage. And they did — hit it, I mean, quite literally demanding energy that the audience was all-too-willing to give. Aggro-reggae is not your typical Three-Little-Birds Kumbaya crunchy time hippie fest (not that there’s anything wrong with that); it’s aggro — aggressive, in your face, danceyourtailoff, get down music, that still promotes love and peace but not at the cost of softening the edge and sounding like wusses (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s soul and good times and the best of ’68-’72 rocksteady and ska played by guys who look like they were definitely not the band geeks, but rather the bullies who beat them up, took their instruments, and schooled the sh-t out of ‘em.
Frontman Jesse Wagner strutted about the stage in his usual mix of charm and menace, with raw vocals and shout-choruses that the audience couldn’t get enough of. The band wisely mixed new songs from their fourth full length album,Â IV (Hellcat Records), with old favorites like “Mr. Misery” and “Work It,” seamlessly transitioning between tempos and style to demonstrate mastered musical prowess (and to keep the audience da-da-dancin’). Some of my favorite moments were when the beat slowed enough for Jesse to show his soul chops, and honestly,Â every time Roger Rivas let loose on the organ. Brian Dixon, who rarely stopped pacing as the band’s rhythm guitarist-on-the-prowl, and backbone-bassist Jeff Roffredo had the grooves onÂ lock (you heard me). Completed with baby-faced drummer Alex McKenzie, they redefined “in the pocket” and would have had jazz cats shaking in their polyrhythmed boots.
In summary, The Aggrolites never disappoint. Ever. The audience left in clear agreement that we would follow the band to the earth’s edge (or into BerkeleyÂ on a Sunday, as it were) to get our fix of dirty reggae, to chant “A.G.G.R.O.” through the night, and, depending on the number of Red Stripes, to continue chanting into our bosses’ faces comeÂ Monday morning.
Photo Credit: (c)Â www.aggroreggae.com