Active for more than four decades, Steel Pulse is a band from Birmingham, United Kingdom. They are notably known for being the first non-Jamaican band to win a Grammy award for Best Reggae Album in 1986. I saw them at MTelus on June 28th during Montreal Jazz Festival and was blown away.
To be fair I don’t listen much to reggae, my knowledge stops at Bob Marley and UB40 (if it counts as such). But I really like dub, especially dub-influenced electronic music such as deep and dub techno; I was introduced to electronic music via dubstep in its peak back in 2010-2012 (the good dubstep though, Hyperdub, Hessle audio and DMZ style – although I’ve been caught headbanging at a Skrillex concert once in Paris). So it’s funny enough to note that Steel Pulse’s concert at MTelus started with the band coming onto stage blasting wobbles through the room’s speakers. My friends, who have been listening to this band since they were toddlers were utterly surprised. They quickly calmed down once the band played their first track, an incredible duo between keyboardist Selwyn Brown and lead singer and guitarist David Hinds, both original members of the group. At 61 and 63 years old, the two musicians are driven by the energy that holds legendary bands together. I’ve always tried to imagine how the Stones or AC/DC keep touring year after year and this was it.
This concert was one of the most intense I’ve ever attended, with the band played song after song and barely leaving any chance for the public to catch a breath. Even after a career spanning 45 years, their energy was so strong and communicative that I couldn’t take the smile off my face. At some point, we were all phasing on the music and didn’t even realize that the bassist was missing, and then here he is, on our left, right in the middle of the crowd, smiling while rolling out his grooves. During the encore he even came back wearing a cape and a SpongeBob costume!
Their latest album is strongly engaged and focused on the social happenings of the USA in the latest years, evoking the BLM movement and the resurgence of white nationalism. The song Don’t Shoot ended with a mimic of a shooting, the band holding their hands up while a stroboscope accompanied gun shot sounds. It’s obviously not the first time the band treated such subjects on their albums, the track Klu Klux Klan was released in 1978, and social revendications are inherently part of reggae. Yet the overall vibe and energy of the concert was one big happy party: heads bobbing, feet shuffling and skanking, this one dude with a top hat quickly lighting a joint for a unique puff…
After an encore that lasted for about 25 minutes and 5 songs we all left MTelus light headed. Steel Pulse’s pulse still beats to the beat.
Photos courtesy of Steel Pulse.