Anyone who has been to a reggae show at Downtown Brewing Co. can is familiar with the atmosphere: A haze carrying dubious smells drifts over the audience, dancing is recognized as swaying back and forth or bouncing up and down, and positive vibes resonate all around.
As packed as DTB can get during concerts, it’s always refreshing when people excuse themselves as they make their way through the crowd.
Wednesday night met all the criteria and then some as reggae legend Gregory Isaacs came to town.
Near midnight, after three opening acts, the crowd was still buzzing in anticipation, waiting for the “Cool Ruler” himself to walk on stage, when he emerged wearing his trademark brimmed hat, a blue blazer, a vibrant red button-up and white pants, and the crowd bellowed its approval.
For those unfamiliar with Isaacs, his career began in the 1970s in Jamaica and has spanned the spectrum of reggae style from lovers’ rock to dancehall, emerging as a pillar of the genre. A synthesis of electronic dubbing, prominent organs and piano combined with melodious rhythms has allowed him to be successful for the better part of four decades.
To be in such an intimate setting with Isaacs was a treat for any fan. Granted, his vocals are not what they used to be – a little cracked and not quite able to belt the notes like he did on albums of the past – quite natural for a 57-year-old man.
That being said, when the bass line drops you into one of his hits like “Number One” or “Thank You,” you can’t help but fall into a trance and bob back and forth to the music.
His band, Live Wyaa, which played a set right before Isaacs, got the crowd revved up with covers of Damien Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock” and Collie Buddz’ “Come Around.”
The other opening acts were quite entertaining as well, which helped to make the nearly four hours from door opening to headlining act pass quickly. Fighting Chance, a local band, played to plenty of love, and Rootz Underground played an energetic set that had the crowd hopping.
But the highlight of the night was when Isaacs played his timeless classic “Night Nurse” to a roaring ovation. If you haven’t heard the song, do yourself a favor and go purchase it on iTunes.
The song blends electric guitar, piano and drums perfectly, while allowing each instrument an ample section to showcase its abilities. The hypnotic chorus, led by Isaacs, seemed to put a spell on the audience as they sang along, belting out each lyric.
When the performance ended and the night came to a close, the crowd soaked in the presence of a living legend and emerged in the cold air, walking to the beat of the “cool ruler.”