Reggae and non-reggae fans alike were treated to a living legend Friday night as Toots Hibbert, the iconic leader of Jamaica’s own Toots and the Maytals, brought his group’s unique groove to the ballroom at the Pearl Street Nightclub in Northampton, Mass.
The show was part dance-party and part history lesson with the charismatic Hibbert playing the dual roles of band leader and educator.
“I told you I was going to be your teacher this evening,” Hibbert said to the crowd part-way through his two-hour plus set. “But I never thought you would be this brilliant.”
The crowd, which grew to capacity over the course of the show, appreciably ate up the antics on stage even when matters took turns for the unpredictable. For example, almost half a dozen songs into the set, a visibly frustrated Hibbert suddenly threw his microphone to the stage after repeatedly motioning for the sound engineer to adjust his levels. However, neither the audience nor the rest of the band missed a beat during the tense moment, and the party continued while heated words were exchanged.
Still, in between ground-shaking anthems and Hibbert’s own humorous attempts at dancing, similar technical problems repeatedly plagued the remainder of the performance. Feedback from the microphones was a sporadic issue, even for powerhouse openers the Fear Nuttin’ Band, and after donning an acoustic guitar late in the night Hibbert continued his battle with the engineer by making numerous visits to the sound board to complain about his instrument. Eventually, a member of the Maytals’ staff appeared to take over sound duties as the engineer on hand threw up his hands in defeat almost half an hour before the show’s conclusion.
Yet, drawbacks aside, Hibbert and company still managed to deliver a remarkable endurance test of sorts for those looking to skank the night away. While playing fan favorites like “Pressure Drop,” “54-46 Was My Number,” as well as covers of “Louie, Louie” and “Take Me Home Country Roads” got the assembled masses swaying exuberantly along to the beat, hazy jams and frequent displays of band dynamics tended to go on longer then they should have. Again and again Hibbert would quiet the music, only to bring it quickly back up for another thrilling crescendo or moment of audience participation (hand claps were a particular favorite).
Eventually, with midnight in the rear-view mirror and those still standing looking noticeably exhausted, Toots and the Maytals left the building amidst raucous cheers and the clearing of several strange clouds of smoke. They may not have burned the house down this time, but for those in attendance the heat will no doubt remain for days to come.
Toots and the Maytals with openers the Fear Nuttin’ Band performed Nov. 12 at the Pearl Street Nightclub, 10 Pearl St., Northampton, Mass., (413) 584-7771, www.iheg.com/pearl_street_main.asp. For more information and tour dates please visit www.tootsandthemaytals.com or www.fearnuttinband.com.