For more than four decades Lee 'Scratch' Perry, the original Upsetter, has been pushing reggae into the cosmic depths, mining the mysteries in the veins of the heavy heart of dub. No amount of listening to the man's ridiculously vast catalogue can truly prepare the mind for witnessing the dark, colourful Upsetter dub live. Perry made his return to Victoria in top form, unbridled and confident as ever in the colourful, reckless weirdness that has has been the lifeblood of his career.
Touring in support of the recently released Super Age Returns to Conquer – a rerecording of the seminal Super Ape with his longtime touring band Subatomic Sound System – Perry led the audience on a spiralling journey of creative energy. I have a hard time with accents and often don't understand Perry on my headphones let alone in a live setting, but it doesn't really matter. His whole presence is so huge and mystical and immediate that you couldn't help but be sucked in, even if you only picked up one out of every two or three words he says. The sound of his voice, whatever it was doing, was almost hypnotic. When the more familiar refrains like “This is the Ape Man...” broke through out of the haze, the feeling was straight-up sublime.
While Perry is the centre of everything, the colour, the driving engine of the whole thing is the deeply hypnotic bass of the powerful Subatomic Sound System. The bass of dub is heartbeat bass, seemingly moving at the pace of blood, and there aren't many people I've heard lately harnessing that dub like SSS. When the show started with dropping the bass to deep, air-shaking frequencies and had the crowd hold their hands in the air to confirm that those bass vibes were indeed now in the air, I got real excited and there was no disappointment. For nearly two hours I couldn't stop moving even if I tried. Subatomic had control of my motor functions.
Helping the hypnotizing process along was the incredible saxophone work of Troy Shaka Simms. Weaving and supple, his sound floated around and above the heavy, earthy bass and complimented Perry perfectly. And within all of this relentless musical glory was the percussion of Jamaican legend Larry McDonald. Punctuating the wall of sound that Perry and Subatomic had built was McDonald's nimble and guttural riddims, splashing the space-out dub with the unmistakable rhythm of human life. Hands on drums is the most basic musical sound we know. It is embedded in our shared collective knowledge and way out there in the vast unknown of cosmos McDonald relayed that knowledge in a way that reminded me of a feeling I didn't I think I'd find all the way out there.
That was a fucking great show. I love dub reggae. Few sounds sooth my soul the way Lee Perry & Subatomic Sound System did last night.