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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Pato Banton: Lively, but Still a Lightweight

Pato Banton may not be the finest talent in reggae today, but that would have been a difficult point to win with the dance-happy young audience crowding Banton’s show at the Coach House Wednesday night.

As soon as he hit the stage, the British rapper/singer declared, “I’m not about to perform to a set of people sitting down,” and that was all it took to transform the typically static club atmosphere into a mashing dance hall for the duration of Banton’s 11-number set.

Along with a nimble rhythm team and a delightfully propulsive, roots-based horn section, Banton’s vocals spoke directly to the feet, most often employing the Jamaica-born emcee toasting style, where, much more than in American rap variants, the high-speed rhyming becomes an insistent rhythm instrument unto itself.

That percussive bent, coupled with the slight performer’s non-stop enthusiasm, made for some big juvenile fun. But, despite Banton’s lyrics expressing every modern reggae singer’s value-pack of social concerns, his performance still seemed a bit lightweight when compared to others working with island rhythms.

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Banton’s music lacks both the vision of contemporaries Ziggy Marley and Shinehead--the ability to share fresh insights in the subjects they address--and the soulful fire of a Toots Hibbert, whose performances, like his mentor Otis Redding’s, can be a joyful, screaming example of life lived to its fullest.

Banton introduced his “Settle Satan” as “an all-out attack on the devil,” but the dance track was more of a musical water pistol: fun, refreshing perhaps, but not quite the ticket for turning the tide of universal evil. Similarly, his “My Opinion” may not have been among the deeper missives on apartheid, with a musical quote from “What the World Needs Now” being at odds with Banton’s impromptu comment, “Maybe one day one of you here will be president, and will go to South Africa, kick some ass, and liberate it.”

Still, much of his performance justified that adulation of his large, young following, who know Banton through his work with Britain’s General Public, the English Beat and UB40 as well as his own intensive work in California pumped by the KROQ hit “Absolute Perfection.”

His actual singing is undistinguished, but Banton is a true master of speed-toasting. His boast of having “the fastest rap ever done by anybody in the world” on his “Gwarn!” might just warrant “Guinness Book of World Records” certification. His rapping turned humorous on the anti-drug “Don’t Sniff Coke” (anti most drugs, actually, as the song also promotes ganga as the “healer of the nation”).

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Banton’s show drew further strength from his antic stage moves. He led his band in a drenching dance pace throughout the performance, with the sole break coming on his encore signature tune, “Never Give In,” when he and his seven musicians froze, statue-like, for several moments.


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