The legendary, revolutionary, UK-born roots reggae band Steel Pulse brought infectious “irie” vibes to the House of Blues Friday night. Their set started off with lead singer David Hinds running on stage, immediately identifiable by his familiar, unfathomably thick dreadlocks. Contrary to the single dense lock he sported in his younger days, recognizable on the iconic True Democracy album cover, which stood upwards, proud, tall, and strong atop his head, his beautiful locks on Friday were neatly wrapped and rested in the same place to form a crown; a couple of loose stragglers swayed along with him throughout the night as he danced and grooved at every corner of the stage.
“Rally Round” played as he chanted along with the crowd, “Rally round the flag, rally round the red, gold, black, and green,” with, fittingly, a giant Rasta flag waving behind him. Everyone erupted and roared as loud as the Rasta lion represented on his t-shirt in response to his cry of, “NEW ORLEANS, ARE YOU FEELING IRIE?!! Long time, no see!” As their last visit was during Jazz Fest last year, and before that, at Tipitina’s in 2014, they were warmly welcomed back to the Big Easy with a sold-out show.
In some previous performances, the band has been known to run chopped-up excerpts of songs together for a swift, less-thorough set. On Friday, fortunately, this was not the case. All songs were played from start to finish, giving fans the opportunity to belt familiar lyrics in their entirety, to songs like “Roller Skates,” “Chant a Psalm,” “Bodyguard,” “Find it Quick,” “A Who Responsible,” and other classics. “Stop You Coming and Come” was one that is possibly less familiar to some, as it was just released in late November of last year—their first single released in 14 years.
For the past 40-plus years, Steel Pulse’s message has always been crystal clear through their timeless anthems. Founded in 1975 in Birmingham, England, specifically around the ghettos of Handsworth, the band has strived to use their music to better mankind, in consequence of early life experiences. They chant lyrics that address racism, oppression, and corruption. In 1978, when they performed on BBC, they dressed as the Ku Klux Klan and called out the far-right British political party, the National Front, in front of millions of viewers. Their efforts were even recognized by then-president Bill Clinton, as they were invited to perform at the White House in 1993. With all that said, there’s no surprise that their latest performance followed the same sort of theme.
After greeting the crowd, Hinds specifically called out an area of New Orleans that’s widely associated with neglect. “And how are my friends in the Ninth Ward?” he asked the crowd, subsequently getting another eruption of applause and chanting in response. On a political kick, there was a constant green stage light shining on members and a giant marijuana flag that waved behind the band, presumably in support of the legalization of marijuana. Songs like “Black and Proud” and “Klu Klux Klan” were belted out with passion. A specifically memorable moment of the show came at the end of “Don’t Shoot” when the stage lights went black, and all band members stared forward blankly into the crowd with their hands up in surrender, while sounds of gunshots filled the air and white strobe lights flashed on them, resembling gunfire.
As members exited the stage and the crowd roared yet again, this time at an empty stage to demand an encore, original member Sidney Mills walked on and explained that the band felt the need to take that time to “do things differently.” The crowd was encouraged to grab a stranger’s hand, look them in the eyes, and repeat, “peace, love, and unity.” The band then continued with a four-song encore and handed set lists to eager front-row fans before they exited a final time.
With most remaining original members being 60 years of age or older, amazingly, they are able to continue to exert the same high energy as in many years past; it’s almost as though their 40-plus years of performance muscle memory have ignored their white hairs. With no signs of slowing down, their new album Mass Manipulation is scheduled to release this year through the nonprofit record label Rootfire Cooperative. This highly anticipated album will be their first album release since 2004; through it, they are bound to continue to spread messages of peace and equality.