Pop Live: Luciano Malcolm X Centre, Bristol
Friday 22 November 1996
By the time Luciano appeared it was past 2am, and the punters were still arriving. Resplendent in coolie hat, dashiki top and the baggiest of trousers, and bearing a leather-bound copy of the bible in his hand, the new star of Jamaican reggae immediately knelt down at the front of the stage and proceeded to read from Ephesians 3, as you do. The lesson over, Luciano discarded the hat to reveal his rasta locks - cue enormous cheers from the audience - and, as the band struck up the rhythm of "Messenger", the title-track of his new Island Jamaica album, inaugurated a furious bout of kung-fu high-kicking. Cue general mayhem.
As an opening gambit, this was a killer: with the spirit already attended to, the body could become the focus for the rest of the set, and Luciano's own body is a supple instrument that commands at least as much attention as his fine singing voice. He's as elastic a front-man as you could wish for; reggae's answer to peak-period Iggy Pop. He's also very, very good.
The righteous context he operates in is similar to that of Buju Banton, but Luciano, one suspects, has never really been rude; he's just too nice. Certainly, even the newly domesticated Buju couldn't get away with a song like "Mama", a gorgeously sentimental encomium to mothers everywhere, which Luciano rather underplayed tonight, as if aware of the need to project toughness.
Though his two Island albums are a little lacking in bite, they do have the advantage of lots of memorable songs, and the anthem-quotient remained buoyantly high throughout the show. The performance was quite brilliantly choreographed, with an excellent band directed by the great reggae saxophonist Dean Fraser. Through roots-reggae slow-burns, Calypso and Latin-flavoured up-tempo skankers, to dubbed-up work-outs like the wonderful "Never Give Up My Pride", where the bass at last began to shake the venue's foundations, Luciano sang like an angel while managing to act like a close relative of the anti-Christ. He may not be another Bob Marley - after all, who could be? - but he's a hard act to follow all the same.
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