Lee (Scratch) Perry

Roots reggae's premier mystic gone mad, Lee (Scratch) Perry sings and proselytizes with metaphysical mayhem on the mind. But his backing band the Robotiks, featuring the Mad Professor at the soundboard adding effects alternately booming and spacey, play with such steadiness and conviction that his madness is given a bliss-inducing context with which to celebrate his unquestioned artistry. In a rare performance at an overpacked Billboard Live saturated in the aroma of burning herb, Perry stirred up the ghosts of reggae's past --- Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, specifically --- and ably worked his way through familiar rhythms and melodies such as Marley's "Crazy Baldhead." His singing was mostly hit with a few misses, though the denser the musical wash, the more interesting his vocals became. He toasted (reggae's predecessor to rap) with a lilt and sang with weary gruffness as he hopped one-footed or paced the length of the stage while carrying burning incense. Between songs he went off on tangents --- speaking as a 6-year-old girl, singing "Sh-boom" a capella, pouring water on the audience as he spoke of "jah rain" and suggesting he's the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln --- belying the coherency he exhibited while the music was playing.

With:
Band: Perry, the Mad Professor, Black Steel, Eddie Brown, Fish, Sinclair Seals.

Perry, 61, producer, songwriter, performer and creator of the cut-and-paste style known as dub, is touring behind Island Records’ three-CD compilation “Arkology,” a collection of his 1975-79 work many consider his creative zenith. Along with the Smithsonian’s “Anthology of American Folk Music,” “Arkology” stands as the year’s most historically significant music package.

His performance definitely followed the path he created at his Black Ark studio in Jamaica with artists such as the Upsetters, the Wailers and Max Romeo. Wearing a white suit and a ball cap covered in small picture frames, Perry was playful throughout, hardly taking the frontman role so many of Marley’s followers have hoisted upon themselves. In fact, he even revised the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” into “Come Go With Me,” a suggestion that at his core, he prefers the role of partner to that of leader.

Lee (Scratch) Perry

Billboard Live; 325 capacity; $30

Production: Presented inhouse.

Crew: Reviewed Nov. 12, 1997.

Cast: Band: Perry, the Mad Professor, Black Steel, Eddie Brown, Fish, Sinclair Seals.

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