MARCH 15, 2012
On the list of all-time great reggae success stories, Toots and The Maytals share rarified air with the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff. Ultimately, they may not have sold as many albums as the ubiquitous Marley—and the whole debate gets a lot more complicated if you factor in subgenres like dub or dancehall—but the man born Frederick Hibbert and his band can go toe to toe with just about anybody when it comes to influential sounds and classic singles. And while we’ve lost so many of his peers before their time—Marley and Tosh were both taken before they were 45, of cancer and a botched robbery attempt, respectively—Toots is still going strong, touring often and releasing new music as recently as 2010’s Flip and Twist.
Taking the stage in sunglasses and a shiny, sleeveless outfit that wouldn’t seem out of place on will.i.am, Hibbert may have looked as if he was striving to be current, but the sound leaving the speakers felt altogether timeless. You would think that, at 66, his voice would be showing some signs of wear, but here he sounded as big and brassy as ever as he belted out all of his legendary hits, among them “Pressure Drop,” “54-46 That’s My Number,” “Monkey Man,” “Louie, Louie” and “Bam Bam,” while also making some time for newer, mellower material.
While it was never anything less than good, his two-hour set did lose some momentum from time to time, usually when his guitar was out. Hibbert is quite skilled on the instrument, but it had a way of slowing things down and, what’s more, keeping him from singing, which is a shame since, at the end of the day, it’s his full, soulful vocals that have always powered his music. In general, the higher the tempo was, the more arresting his performance was, with the high-energy, skanking shouters proving most memorable. Then again, at his age, that’s got to be a hard pace to keep up.
But if it was the more spirited bits that stole the show, the quality was always there, and the smallish but enthusiastic crowd seemed to wholeheartedly enjoy the experience. Of course, it seems almost inconceivable that a man as passionate as Toots, who was pioneering the sound of reggae, as well as the word itself, in the 1960s would roll into The Rave and not bring it. That’s not to say that anyone should take his relatively frequent appearances for granted, however, especially in light of the premature deaths that claimed so many of reggae’s first-wave innovators. Life is unpredictable, and the fact that Toots is still out there spreading the good word is cause for celebration.