“I’m an artist, a musician, a magician, a writer, a singer. I’m everything,” claims 71 year-old Lee “Scratch” Perry on his MySpace page. And while there’s certainly some exaggeration to be found in his eccentric ways, Perry’s show at the House of Blues confirmed his status as patriarch of the hypnotic and weirdly seductive style of dub — one of Jamaica’s biggest contributions to the lexicon of popular music.
Perry was backed by Dub Is a Weapon, an excellent septet from Brooklyn that includes the energetic conga workouts of veteran percussionist Larry McDonald. During its hourlong opening set, the group delivered a potent cocktail of funky bass lines, tight percussive grooves and subtle dub effects.
At the core of the band’s incandescent sound lies the artistry of Maria Eisen on saxophone; she switched between dance friendly riffs and more idiosyncratic, wailing solos.
Working with a simple 16-channel mixing board and guitar pedals, founding member and former Antibalas guitarist David Hahn created the shimmering atmospherics for which dub is known. A version of the Skatalites’ “Rock Fort Rock,” with its instantly recognizable melody on the sax, was the set’s most invigorating moment.
When Dub Is a Weapon returned onstage as the backing band for Perry, it sounded moody and focused, adjusting instantly to the singer’s trancelike (and occasionally monotonous) delivery. The bass lines became deeper, the dub effects more mysterious, and the members of the group — made up mostly of young musicians — looked genuinely thrilled to be backing the master.
Perry became one of the most iconic figures in Jamaican music on the strength of his collaborations with the Wailers in the late ’60s and the visionary productions recorded during the ’70s in his own Black Ark studio, which he literally burned to the ground in 1980. He’s always been more of a producer than a singer, which explains the iffy quality of his vocals during most of Saturday’s perf.
But Perry is more than just a voice. Wearing outlandish clothes and jewelry, he seemed to encapsulate the very essence of vintage reggae: rhythmically prodigious, slightly catatonic, wondrously evocative and blessed with a jovial attitude and a wicked sense of humor.