Friday, October 5, 2007

54-46 Was His Number

"Believe in what you do, and you will not get weary." - Toots and the Maytals

The legendary Toots and the Maytals raised the roof more than a few inches when they played The Independent in San Francisco on Tuesday night. Legends? You bet. This is the band that coined the word "reggae" way back in 1968.

Over the years, Toots and the Maytals have composed and recorded some massive anthemic reggae jams -- and they're still performing them: "Bam Bam," "Do the Reggay," "Pressure Drop," "Sweet and Dandy," "Monkey Man," "Funky Kingston," "Time Tough," "Reggae Got Soul," "Never Get Weary," "Bla Bla Bla," ... and, of course, that classic tale of justice gone wrong, "54-46 That's My Number." But perhaps my favorite song of the night was Toots' sublime reggae version of John Denver's "(Take Me Home) Country Roads."

The Independent was packed to the rafters, and Frederick "Toots" Hibbert -- who by now certainly must be in his early 60s -- channeled the room's energy into an all-night, balls-to-the-wall performance that could easily have worn out a man more than 20 years his junior.

My friend Mark, a reggae aficionado, calls Toots the "James Brown of Reggae." It's easy to see why: Toots mixes a sizable dollop of old-fashioned soul music into his unique stew of reggae and ska, and he tops it off with a performance that recalls the Godfather of Soul.

I ask you this: Who else could lead more than 500 granola-flaked hippies, dreadlocked rastafarians, and nostalgia-hooked yuppies in a chant of "Amen ... amen ... amen ... amen"? Nobody but Toots.