Yellowman and Dillinger: District, Liverpool – live review
1st March 2014
Two pioneers of dancehall and true superstars of reggae – Yellowman and Dillinger – are currently touring together for the first time in the UK. With combined careers spanning nearly 75 years, this reggae doubleheader was one we couldn’t miss. Or that Louder Than War’s Sean Diamond couldn’t miss anyway.
A former warehouse on the industrial estate in Liverpool’s Jamaica Street, District is one of the most atmospheric, characterful venues the city has to offer. Entering the dimly lit room to thunderous 70s dub reggae, an outdoor Caribbean food stall and positive vibes aplenty, you’re under the impression that a thoroughly enjoyable evening lies in store. The prospect of two (yes, TWO) reggae legends playing on the same stage in the space of one night, both of whom I have held in high regard for a fair few years now, is slightly daunting yet undeniably exciting. Cracking open a can of Red Stripe, I step into the garden; taking in the sights, sounds and smells, admiring the giant imitation Red Bull can to the left of me as Max Romeo blasts righteously from the formidable sound system inside. So far, so very very good.
After a couple of hours worth of impressive DJ sets (including Liverpool’s Beaten Tracks) it’s time to welcome The Sagittarius Band, a legendary backing band who have been providing the musical accompaniment to Yellowman’s live shows since the eighties (replacing The Roots Radics), and who get the crowd going with some bass heavy ska / dancehall instrumental grooves. Enter Dillinger, who proceeds to dazzle clad in an uber cool 80s bowler hat/designer sunglasses outfit and looking distressingly youthful for a sixty-year old man! He serves up an energetic, good humoured set of blissed out sermonising and risque humour, the soulful likes of ‘Loving Pauper’ and ‘Bouncing Ball’ offset only by the dark humour of his signature track ‘Cocaine In my Brain’, a hard edged cautionary tale exploring the debilitating effects of the white stuff which closes the set, still one of the greatest (and most unlikely) dancefloor fillers of all time, unlikely because of its unflinchingly close to the bone lyrics which take you on a journey through the desolate valleys of drug addiction, accompanied by a menacing beat which unnerves yet still has you dancing and grinning like a madman (or woman), a formidable feat by any stretch of the imagination. A class act.
My first exposure to tonight’s headlining act came to me in the form of a vinyl in my dad’s record collection by the name of ‘King Yellowman’. We were making a cassette compilation for the car, and my dad suggested including the album’s opening track, ‘Jamaica Nice / Take Me Home Country Roads’. I was about ten years old; I was already aware of the record’s existence (the striking cover art had led my dad to explain to me the concept of albinism), but had no recollection of actually hearing any of the tracks, the only reggae album I recalled hearing back-to-back as an infant being the classic Bob Marley greatest hits compilation ‘Legend’. I remember being blown away by the bass (possibly the heaviest I had heard at this point) sounding as though it were trying to escape the constraints of the speakers, being slightly shaken every time a jarring flash of electric guitar undercut the mind blowing rhythm, and gently tickled by the playful lyrics and imagery of white men pushing dogs in prams and a nod to the “Liverpool Posse”! Since then I’ve been hooked and have made a point of investigating as much of his material as possible. Suffice to say, I was pretty sure that this show wouldn’t disappoint….
Arriving onstage to deafening roars, Yellowman salutes the crowd and launches straight into ‘ Ooh We / Sea Cruise’ from the aforementioned album. Toned to the max, he takes great delight in stretching his legs, flexing his pecs and bouncing around the stage to the delight of the crowd, the most astonishingly physical performer I think I have ever witnessed. Working up a frenzy with the sprightly likes of ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ and the tongue twisting anthem ‘Zungguzungguguguzungguzeng’, which has been sampled by Hip Hop acts such as KRS-One, Biggie and Blackstar, the pace rarely lets up; only really slowing down with his cover of Fats Domino’s ‘Blueberry Hill’ and his ‘Sex Education’ lesson, a strangely moving slow number extolling the virtues of safe sex and featuring snatches of Shaggy’s Boombastic and Marley’s Turn Your Lights Down Low. A sped up ‘Jamaica Nice’ and a razor sharp ‘Mr Chin’ (taken from his amazing debut album, the psych/dub/roots whirlwind of ribald humour and otherworldly sonics ‘Mister Yellowman’) ensure that your feet regularly leave floor (and possibly earth) level. A truly charismatic performer, shaking hands with the people down the front, making lighthearted comments about Manchester United (prompting a few good natured boo’s), encouraging mass hand claps and declaring his love for Liverpool, this is a truly captivating musical experience. Long live the King.
- Wednesday 5 March 02 ABC, Glasgow
- Thursday 6 March The Sage, Gateshead
- Friday 7 March Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich
- Saturday 8 March Band On The Wall, Manchester
- Sunday 9 March Hootananny Brixton, London
All words by Sean Diamond. More work by Sean Diamond can be found in his Louder Than War archive.