Easy All Stars and Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad
Reinvent Reggae Music During Concert at Soho in Santa Barbara
L. Paul Mann
A near sell out crowd packed Soho restaurant and nightclub in downtown Santa Barbara, on a sleepy Monday night, September 22. The Reggae music genre has long been celebrated in the local community here, with a tradition of special nights dedicated to the dance trance rhythms inspired by the Caribbean beat. In the last few decades, a new younger fan base has exploded across the country, embracing the genre. Santa Barbara has followed suit, producing several local California style Reggae groups riding this new tidal wave of success, including the very successful bands Rebelution and Iration. But the explosive double bill of New York based bands, Easy All Stars and GPGDS (Giant Guerrilla Panda Dub Squad), that played Soho Monday night, offered up their own unique interpretations of the classic Caribbean Reggae genre.
The evening began with a short but pleasing set by the up and coming California Reggae rockers, Tatanka. GPGDS took the stage shortly before 930pm, just as the venue began to swell with music fans. Their ninety minute set showcased the groups unique amalgamation of Reggae, rock, ska, and jam music. While the bands music is rooted in traditional Reggae beats, the group is actually a true jam band, with a style closely associated with some of the most successful jam bands like that of the Grateful Dead or Phish. The five member group of veteran players offer up exquisite musicianship and vocal skills, with original guitarist, Dylan Savage, and bass player, James Searl, and relatively new member guitarist, Dan Keller, all taking turns on lead vocals. Original master drummer Chris O’Brian and new keyboardist Tony Gallicchio round out the current version of the band. The group hails from Rochester New York, which curiously, just like Santa Barbara, became an unexpected bastion of Reggae music. The Rochester Reggae scene received wide attention back in 1981, when the legendary Lee Scratch Perry, formed his then new band there. GPGDS has produced four distinctively different albums, the newest of which is yet to be released any day now. The new recording, Steady, was their first album produced with Easy Star records, and benefits from some of the finest Reggae production on the East Coast. Before their, set James the bass player sat out in the Soho courtyard with the rest of the bands members, surrounded by local Reggae music aficionados. While everyone enjoyed the warm clear evening on the last night of Summer, engulfed by a sweet poignant haze, I chatted with James about the musical motivation behind the band. Their new album features a blend of Reggae and traditional American folk music. On selections like the pro marijuana song, “Mr Cop”, James explains that the band tries to write profound lyrics that can be timeless and relevant to different generations, each with their own set of current events. It seems, in that regard the band has been greatly successful, as evidenced by their Monday night performance in Santa Barbara. The band featured tracks from all four albums spanning nearly the entire thirteen years that the band has been together. But the lyrics of every song seemed interesting and relevant to the diverse crowd at the Soho. For most, who experience the band for the first time, the group is a pleasant surprise, offering up the Reggae beats that the crowd comes expecting to hear, but then fading into trance like super jams. The result is an unexpected musical journey that takes the audience into different musical genres before returning them to the comfort of the Reggae rhythms that most are anticipating. The band delved into many different modes on Monday night, even offering a jazz like jam bordering on an early Steely Dan sound. Their Reggae dub step beat, too is also their own unique take on the rhythm, reminiscent of the Clash’s clever experimentation with Dub Beats in their later years. If their set Monday night was any indication, their new recording should be full of clever surprises, sort of a smoothie of musical genres.
The marathon concert continued just after 1130PM as the headliners, Easy All Stars swarmed the stage, for a two hour set. The New York City band is similar to GPGDS, in that they have developed their own unique style of modified Reggae music. But this group of veteran musicians have developed a very different path for their version of Reggae jam music. The band, formed back in 1997, and have made a name for themselves by creating Reggae infused remixes of classic rock albums. Their first ground breaking release was in 2003 with Dub Side of The Moon, a complete Reggae reworking of the Pink Floyd classic Dark Side of The Moon. They remixed a newer version of the album in 2010, and although this has become their most famous work, they have tackled several other reworking projects, including the 2006 release of Radiodread based on Radiohead’s OK Computer album, the 2009 release of Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band based on The Beatles classic Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and a 2012 release of Thrillah, based on Michael Jacksons Thriller masterpiece. But the group should not be considered either as cover band or a novelty act like Weird Al Yankovich. The band has released original material and when they remaster classic rock music they make it their own unique version of Reggae and rock jam music. To truly appreciate the immense talent of the group they have to experienced as a live show, where they transform the familiar into a living breathing jam orchestration. The show Monday night at Soho featured most of Dub Side of The Moon, in a presentation that most any jam band fanatic could appreciate, moving from familiar reggae rifts to enigmatic orchestrations. The band also interspersed material from the rest of their rich catalog that held the audience in a trance like euphoria until the official club curfew of 1.30am, nearly five hours after the first notes of the evening were played. The large crowd who mostly stayed until the very end, continued to scream for more, even as the club began to close down.