London Town & Country Club Live - gig review

Dele Fadele in NME

29 June 1991

The introduction didn't bode well for the former kings of militant reggae. In fact, consternation was the only logical reaction when three nattily-attired horn players took their positions and burst into a mercifully brief rendition of U Can't Touch This. One could've been forgiven for thinking their three-year (or more) sojourn in America had finally addled Steel Pulse's minds and that rubbing shoulders with all those celebrities had turned 'em into a kind of travelling circus dependent on serious showmanship.

But let's not get too carried away; Steel Pulse still know their rights, acknowledge their roots and understand how time is running out. They know the days of reggae and an exclusively purist music have long been numbered and are presently trying their best to offer up a palatable '90s version that still retains spikes of discomfort. Hence the stepping Bodyguard is closely followed by State of Emergency, a kind of sugar-coated aggression takes hold and the bass reverberations chill you to the bone.

David Hinds and his accomplished group aren't all about polemic these days, however. From time to time they'll slip the groove into a glutinous take on the big soul ballad and dedicate the resulting mush to 'all the sisters in the house, we know your struggle' without deflating the rather pleasant multi-racial atmosphere. Another fave party trick is to do little medleys of known reggae hits and drop 'em off with some cool toasting. This is especially effective when Gregory Isaacs Rumours segues neatly into Bob Marley's War.

There are some dub moves, some slowed-down theatrics in which the band imitate a turntable that's just been switched-off, various showcase cuts from the reasonably good new LP (on this evidence anyway) and an absolutely crushing, updated version of Blues Dance Raid, complete with '90s raggamuffin bassline and a timely reminder of police harassment. The volcano is still active, wait for further eruptions.

Text copyright New Musical Express 1991, used without permission.

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