John Brown’s Body delivers feel good show

A review of John Brown’s Body at the House of Blues on January 21, 2011

, Contributing Writer

Like any genre of music, reggae has it good sides and its bad sides. At times, when reggae tends towards the jam band side, reggae can be hard to get into. If you don’t feel it from the beginning, than you may not feel it at all. Reggae is not a genre with a lot of dynamics and the rhythm is hypnotic. So, it takes a band with skill and ability to navigate through the extended 10+ minute instrumental passages. Luckily, as they proved at their homecoming show at the House of Blues on Friday, John Brown’s Body is just the kind of group to be able to accomplish this feat.

While on the band’s studio offerings, the JBB’s songs are delivered in a shorter/condensed form, they unfurl into large, sprawling and winding songs in the live setting. It’s this burrowing and delving into each song, that makes their live set so exciting. So despite only performing a dozen songs over the course of their 90-minute set, John Brown’s Body was able to keep the crowd captivated throughout.

Lead Singer Elliot Martin took control early, and brought the crowd into the show. As a lead singer, Martin’s voice is not stunning, but instead a solid, and gripping voice that helps him command the stage in a way that seems effortless. He evokes a calm cool, which in a reggae music is a real plus, and early on, on songs like “The Grass”, he became the focal point.

This is just the warm up, though. John Brown’s Body really gets going when the whole band gets unleashed. The further into the night it got, the more each member, from trombonist Scotty Flynn to guitarist Mike Keenan and trumpet player Sam Dechenne, got a chance to take a quick solo, or color a melodic line. On songs like “Searchlight”, more funk-rock than reggae, the band created the distinction well, carving out a more raucous rhythm, but still managing to leave space for melody with a gorgeous, yearning trumpet line.  On “What We Gonna Do?”, a call and response song, the band created a beautiful background chorus for Martin to soar over. Elsewhere, in their more fiery moments like “Push Some Air”, the already danceable music went from swaying to thrusting.

Later on in the evening, “Ambrosia”, showed the band’s power at its greatest heights. A classic reggae ballad at heart, in John Brown’s Body’s hands, the song exploded into a mixture of dub, electro and ska, like something that might come out of a collaborative session with Massive Attack and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, which says a lot about John Brown’s Body’s gift. It’s this stunning ability to probe and construct something that seems on the surface to be challenging and outside the pop realm, but at its heart is as catchy and memorable as anything on the radio. It’s all in how you feel it.

Local favorites Spiritual Rez opened the show with some feel good reggae that got everyone in the moving and excited for the headliners.

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