Pato Banton, the last act in Steamboat's 2007 Free Summer Concert Series, put on a decently solid show Friday at Howelsen Hill.
His band, Lion Vibes, held its rocksteady beat and had a horn section plenty strong for Banton to fall back on.
Banton is a charismatic performer who knows how to work his happy crowd, and he has a nice, three-decades long list of credentials to draw on (the English Beat was, and is, a great band. "Just Friends" is one of my favorite songs. Pato plays his role on infrequent tours, and he plays it well).
The Birmingham, England, scene he comes from is legendary, and its powerful music remains great to dance to. But somewhere along the way, the majority of reggae lost its message.
It doesn't make sense: there's still oppression, there's still war, there's still horrible wrongs. And there are still, as reggae has always sought to remind us, the things that make it all bearable.
But we're somehow left with Pato Banton onstage, dressed in a white tracksuit, rhyming eloquently and bouncing ridiculously. He toasts and spins, he introduces lyrical paragraphs with, "My name is Pato Banton, this is my opinion."
It's not that his opinion is moot, and it's not that the band backing him isn't soul-powered.
It's that his words have a hollow ring, that all he has to do is say "Bush" and "bad" in the same drawn-out breath to be greeted with thunderous applause.
It's that reggae keeps going in its legends and its underground, but in its dimmer, more visible lights it has become a caricature of itself. That infectious backbeat might still be danceable, but it lost its resonance a long time ago.
All that is made worse by Banton's constant hints to his loyal audience that he's still relevant: a diatribe about the merits of pot smoking that must have lasted 20 minutes or more, name-dropping the Beat, name-dropping members of the Beat, and namedropping recent tourmates 311 (who were, for the record, never good).
- Margaret Hair