While M.C. Hammer, Vanilla Ice and Milli Vanilli were commanding the chart headlines this year, Britain’s Maxi Priest quietly became one of the handful of reggae-rooted artists to score a No. 1 pop hit with the Soul II Soul-style “Close to You.” Priest’s 90-minute set before a full house at the 1,300-capacity Mayan on Sunday stuck closer to traditional reggae grooves--although not as close as reggae purists might have liked.
Priest’s sound was basically urban-contemp’rary reggae--slick, up-tempo grooves sometimes prone to overly busy arrangements form his seven-piece band. The Jamaican roots tradition wasn’t entirely neglected--the bass-driven “dub” portion of “Temptress” got a strong verbal and physical reaction from the dance-oriented crowd.
Particularly effective was an extended workout on the ballad “Space in My Heart” that swung into Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” (Priest’s U.K. breakthrough) and a singalong that was more communal celebration than show-biz artifice.
A version of Rod Stewart’s “Some Guys Have All the Luck” also hit home, but it emphasized a recurring weakness--Priest’s reliance on reggae versions of pop material. But his performance showed that he’s spearheading the drive to move reggae from the hip rock sector to the R&B;/dance mainstream--precisely the kind of youthful, ethnically mixed audience that Bob Marley and other reggae pioneers were aiming for.