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A Trip To The Moon

| August 29, 2006 | 0 Comments

You’re older/shorter of breathe/ and one day closer to death.” Pink Floyd’s overview of how quickly time ravages is certainly true for most everything and everyone except of course, the iconic album from which those verses were taken: Dark Side Of The Moon. Originally released in 1973, the legendary concept album spent almost 15 straight years on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart and continues to be one of the top-selling CDs of all time. What with incessant tributes, from Phish’s fabled live treatment in 1998 to The Squirrels’ 2000 Not-So-Bright Side Of The Moon, the record shows no sign of becoming irrelevant.

So when the Easy Star All-StarsDub Side Of The Moon (Easy Star) was released in 2003, the concept of a reggae version of the classic album inspired lots of eye rolling but little surprise. The thing is, Dark Side Of The Moon‘s foreboding, psychedelic tone actually lends itself well to stripped-down reggae rhythms. Although dour lyrics on life, death, and class struggle may seem misplaced to the casual fan because of reggae’s deceptively easy-going rhythms, reggae has always been about suffering and battling Babylon’s spirit-killing system. It’s a notion Roger Waters surely identified with. Dub Side Of The Moon‘s translation reinvents the total experience, from the sequencing to the reverb, from the irony to the surreal quality – all with a reggae beat. And for those who still consider such a non-traditional re-working sacrilege, remember the very name Pink Floyd comes from the first names of obscure bluesmen (Pink Anderson, Floyd Council), a genre that birthed both rock and reggae.

While the CD remains on the Billboard Reggae Catalog Chart three years later, a mere audio rendering was apparently not enough. A concert DVD, Dub Side Of The Moon Live (Easy Star), was recently released, giving fans a multi-dimensional trip through a psychedelic haze of sound, lights, and animation. Filmed last year in Falls Church, Virginia, the DVD supplies such an evocative experience you can almost smell the clouds of herb.

Opening inside an animated spaceship (aptly named U.S.S. Syd Barrett), a “rasta-naut” in a green spacesuit with yellow stripes down the side awakens to a flashing sign that announces he is “entering the dub side.” The slow rumblings of congas introduce the Easy Star All-Stars as the rasta-naut watches a transmission of the concert. The All-Stars, a seamless group of eight New York-based musicians, some of whom never even heard of Pink Floyd, perform with slowly building intensity that draws viewers in.

“Breathe (In The Air)” gets a decidedly hip-rolling treatment as bassist/singer Ras Iray glides over the lyrics like they were splashing ocean waves. The instrumental “On The Run” cascades into a full-throated, jazzy interpretation of “Time” by bare-footed vocalist Tamar-Kali. On the darkened stage, with strobe lights flashing and a projector streaming various images, the multi-ethnic band conjure a chaotic, free-flowing vision that works well with the psychedelic theme.

Although Dub Side Of The Moon Live is sequenced exactly like Dark Side, (even down to the notorious Wizard Of Oz timing) there are some differences. Most noticeably, the sound effects and audio clips that defined Dark Side are generally absent. Instrumentation, such as a drum solo instead of a heart beat on “Eclipse,” and the roaring clatter of unrestrained riffs and percussion rather than sounds of a plane crashing on “On The Run,” act as substitutes. That’s not to say there are no sound effects, they’re just sparsely and more effectively placed. The shining example of this is concert show stopper “Money.” Instead of the cash register ringing we hear a bong being lit along with deep inhale and cough. On the spaceship, the rasta-naut is warned with a flashing signal of “dub intensity reaching critical.” Critical indeed. He inhales into an oxygen mask but who’s to say what he’s really inhaling?

As the plodding strains of “Money” echo from the stage, Iray lends just the right amount of soulful abandon to his vocals while Jenny Hill‘s sax solo underscores the tune’s raw frustration the way a guitar never could. DJ Menny More‘s righteously skankin’ toast deepens the socio-political impact of the lyrics as he insists, “Me nah put no money/ before me brethren.” Closing with Junior Jazz’s ragged guitar licks, the tune attains perfection from beginning to end.

There are a lot of sublime moments on the DVD where the fears and moods of the ’70s meet the global reality of the new millennium. “The Great Gig In The Sky” is re-christened “Great Dub In The Sky” and accordingly sports a new bass line that, along with Kali’s wailing vocals, creates a whole new dimension. “Us And Them” also stands out with an almost spiritual feel thanks to Jeremy Mage‘s throbbing keyboards and the slowly rocking band members. Jazz’s meditative vocals accentuate the song’s inward focus, but the All-Stars still manage a simmering rocksteady beat.

Visually, there’s nothing outstanding; it’s purely a musical performance. The bonus features are also mundane: pre-show footage, a photo gallery, and short interviews with the All-Stars. But Dub Side Of The Moon Live does exactly what it set out to do. It offers up a brilliant interpretation of Dark Side, not an overly-reverent cover or a cheeky tribute.

– Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

Category: Monthly

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