Echo Drama play a seamless melding of hip hop and reggae that conveys a pure, grooving happiness. The eight-piece Melbourne band provides a perfect opener, warming and welcoming the happy crowd with their dark, driving rhythms.
The vocal talents of soul mama Thando Sikwila and the rapid-fire rapping of Alex Sinclair meld into a sonic force, each complimenting the other perfectly.
The addition of crisp, punctuating horns proves wonderfully melodious, and the players seem almost shy at times – they are humble and grateful to be on the stage. The rhythm section is grooving and dynamic, and it is impossible not to dance and sway to the infectious music.
Easy Star All-Stars emerge onto the stage to raucous applause and whistling, and open with Radiohead’s “Electioneering”.
Their version is a leisurely, plodding wall of sound, tuning the crowd to a chill-out frequency. An upbeat segue to Michael Jackson hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” shifts the mood, with high-energy vocals from pint-size dynamo keyboardist/vocalist Elenna Canlas. She lets rip with the high notes and makes the song her own.
The setlist features a great mix of tracks from the Easy Star All-Stars tribute albums, as well as showcasing the newest songs from their 2012 album Thrillah, a remake of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Easy Star All-Stars are an epic live force. There is charisma everywhere you look on stage – they are relaxed and in total control. Bassist/vocalist Ras I Ray sports some serious dreads which, when unleashed from his bulky rasta hat, fling around his body as he plays with joyous abandon.
Vocalist Kirsty Rock is alluring and sexy; her voice is a sublime addition, especially to the floaty, meandering vibes of “Karma Police”. She has no need to encourage the audience to sing along – the whole place erupts into song unbidden, with ecstatic faces singing the words back at the band.
The rhythm section is let off the leash during an extended jam taken from Dub Side Of The Moon, the band’s reggae-fied version of the seminal 1973 Pink Floyd classic.
“Any Colour You Like” becomes a frenzied trip, with the stripped-down instrumental combination of just guitar, bass, keys, and trombone becoming untethered from their more structured roles and blasting the audience with sonic waves of psychedelia. It is a monumental remake – the original Pink Floyd essence remains while something entirely new is created from the talents of these musicians.
Everywhere in the room there are smiles and dancing, the mood alternating effortlessly between upbeat and slow: from Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” to the Floyd’s more sombre, sonorous “Breathe (In The Air)”.
The throaty growl of vocalist Ruff Scott injects the crowd with extra energy, waking them from the meandering melody of The Beatles’ “Lovely Rita”.
A brooding bass line cut by deafening horn blasts introduces “Thriller”, and makes the crowd go crazy. The melodic version of this masterpiece moves along contentedly, defining the very soul of reggae music.
Guitarist Shelton Garner Jr. provides a poignant moment with his solo rendition of Bob Marley classic “Redemption Song” as an encore, before being joined by the whole band again for a peppy version of “Billie Jean”.
What is most striking about Easy Star All-Stars is that they are not simply a cover band, despite their many tributes to famous albums. They are a force in their own right, putting a completely original spin on timeless classics.
When Ras I Ray tells the crowd to hug somebody in the room, there is not a single person standing alone. This mega love-in sums up the whole night and the immense feeling the audience has for this fantastic band.