Soquel High grads Dub Congress share the stage with the mighty Skatalites, and Curtis Cartier sees the whole thing.
By Curtis Cartier
With my Jah levels dangerously low, Saturday night I was airlifted to Moe's Alley for an emergency reggae recharge. Using the latest methods in dub and ska treatments, a team of specialists from Dub Congress and the Skatalites were able to stabilize my riddim count and nurse me back to a state of irie.
It takes a big name to bring reggae recluses Dub Congress out of their shanties. And while not a single Congressman was alive when the Skatalites launched in 1964, a chance to share a bill with the world's original ska band proved tempting enough to put Congress back in session. First formed in 1994, the Soquel High School alumni in Dub Congress epitomize their era. Their hip-hop-tinged dub sound is the brand of California reggae that's been exported all over the world since Sublime drank 40 Oz. to Freedom back in 1992. Saturday night, the squad busted out a polished set of high-energy reggae that confirmed its status as Santa Cruz elite. Playing to a packed house, the hard-edged dub had hands in the air and asses on the floor. Keyboardist Dan Shafer caught up with Mu_Z and said that, while playing reggae for Santa Cruzans is like preaching to the choir, he's always expected to deliver a powerful sermon.
"As far as reggae music, Santa Cruz is definitely ground zero," Shafer said. "This music is what keeps us together. It's our safety valve. We have jobs and families now, but we need to perform and play music to stay sane."
Looking at the nine horn blowers, drum pounders, bass thumpers and vocal crooners of the Skatalites is like looking at reggae's past, present and future. From the 77-year-old gray-haired founder Lloyd Knibb to the 22-year-old bright-eyed trombonist Andre Murchison, the troupe is a testament to music's long-lasting bonds. And while seeing some aging bands can be like binge-drinking O'Doul's, the Skatalites run a tight ship and delivered the same keyed-up ska bashes that put them in orbit 44 years ago. Moe's music booker Bill Welch said the chance to pencil in the legends was a dream that only got sweeter when the group agreed to not one but two shows on consecutive nights.
"The Skatalites are a magic band that really pioneered a lot of the music we love here at Moe's," said Welch. "They played once before here and brought the house down. I couldn't wait to get them back."
If their first show brought down the house, on Saturday night they raked the house's rubble into a pile and set it on fire. After an hour and a half of skanking classics, the sweaty and smoky crowd was satisfied and let the band exit so Knibb and the other grayhairs could get to bed. For youngsters like Murchison, however, the night was only beginning. The grinning trombonist told Mu_Z that being part of the Skatalites was like being added to a history book.
"I've had some big shoes to fill, and sometimes it's kind of intimidating," he said outside the club. "But these guys are legends, and every day I wake up and still can't believe I'm playing with them."
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