Toots and the Maytals - O2 Academy, Glasgow, Fri 29 May
- Catriona MacPhee
- 2 June 2009
Toots and the Maytals pull in a stunningly diverse crowd. In their UK heyday, the late 70s and 80s, many of the band’s songs were embraced as anthems of radical musical and political movements and for a certain generation they remain a symbol of those rebellious times. For others they are simply legends of the reggae genre. So as dreadlocks and pin-stripes came together to skank in harmony it struck me that this must be what the kids of the 80s look like now. All grown up but with the odd facial tattoo or teddy-boy haircut as evidence a well-spent youth.
For many, this gig seemed to be a brief passport back to those days, and a good chance to dig out the checked shirts, braces and Doc Martens again. For the younger ones it was like being in the film This is England. From the outset, expectations were high and after an introduction from daughter Leba, who was also one of two backup singers in the band, Toots Hibbert bounded on stage to rapturous applause.
Reggae classic 'Pressure Drop' got things off to a good start and Hibbert was on top form with vocals that defied his 63 years. As he bounced around the stage in a shiny red and diamond-encrusted outfit, his microphone was at times almost two feet away from his mouth but his vocals remained deep and powerful, showing exactly why his voice is regarded as one of, if not the, greatest of his genre.
Classic such as Monkey Man, Louie Louie and Funky Kingston were also played, but around halfway through most of these, the band increased the tempo and broke out into ska. However, in losing the slow and booming off-beat bass rhythm and chunky organ chords these tracks also lost some of their magic.
During the faster paced tunes Hibbert revved the crowd up with lots of call-and-response scenarios which worked well. But the playlist switched erratically from punchy reggae classic to slower acoustic ballad and the extremely high volume of chatter throughout the latter of these songs suggested that the changeover left the crowd hanging.
The band could have done with a few more instruments and individual solos. More prominent keyboards at least would have created a better sound but persistent waving to the back stage area from Hibbert and appearances from technical crew hinted that there may have been a few problems going on to explain that. This could also have explained the scatty and impromptu endings to a few songs.
After an energetic set of tunes that many will have wanted to hear live all their lives, the band then bowed out with one notable exception. A look of bewilderment, then horror, spread throughout the crowd. A skinhead next to me began to well up. Then, after some stamping and screaming, Toots and the band returned for a long encore which thankfully included the masterpiece '54-46 That’s My Number'. It was the only way to finish.