Thursday, June 25, 2009

Filling Da Void: A Review of Chuck Fenda: Live In San Francisco

As much as I obviously love the medium of albums and singles for music, I will always admit and agree that the greatest form of presenting music is live and in person. When you take an artist and give them the platform to deliver music that they slaved hours and hours to make sound so nice that so many people will enjoy it and support it, LIVE, it destroys the rather impersonal nature of vibes that listening to a CD or a radio inherently presents. Also, after that performance, many people (myself DEFINITELY included) gain a fuller appetite for a song which they previously may not have enjoyed at all. In Reggae and Caribbean music specifically this also applies and, and a grander scale, perhaps even more so. Still, as much as I may complain about the title, our music is often deemed ‘exotic’ or the ever-present ‘world’ category, therefore, when you have a performance on any type of larger scale than usual, almost EVERY time out, you’ll make new fans of the music. Case and point, almost any time there’ll be a Reggae artist of any stature performing on any type of international television show, you’ll see a reaction locally due to many people abroad being impressed and such a thing, although commonplace for artists of many other genres, Caribbean music seems to respond differently (for the better) for such unfortunately rare opportunities. So should you want to make a friend previously ‘unaffected’ by Reggae music, check the current tour schedules for some of the bigger artists at any given time. Now, being that the situation, I’ve often made the case that it is STRANGELY unusual that because Reggae music LIVE has such an prevailingly GOOD affect on people and with definitely steady stream in which Reggae albums are released, we have so very few live albums released these days. I’d go as far as to make the case that with, re-issues and just first time projects of new and old shows, today we STILL have more old artists pushing with live albums while modern artists seeking to do the same have so very few options. And don’t get me started on Soca. I think it’s definitely an under utilized piece as can you possibly imagine what type of affect a live album/DVD from someone like Elephant Man might do if given proper promotion? Even Beenie man has yet (to my memory) to have a LARGE live album released, despite the fact that his stage presence is probably about as commanding as anything you’d see on Broadway tonight. The Dancehall live album is pretty much GONE (if it ever was here in the first place) (and it wasn’t) which is a real shame (Ninja Man!), however, for those of us willing to go a bit further, on the Roots side things are stirring and have been for awhile.

Critics will always say things like “good Roots Reggae has left Jamaica and gone to the Virgin Islands” and “good lover’s rock has left Jamaica and gone to England”, both of which aren’t true under the surface but I have FULL confidence in saying that the modern Reggae live album now lives in the state California. 2b1 Multimedia has the Reggae live album on LOCK! Period, the San Francisco based label is definitely not the most active by any means but just in the last year or so have RIDICULOUSLY released live albums for relatively new artists I Wayne and Lutan Fyah. Add to that the fact that within the same period of time, they pushed what was arguably the finest Reggae album of any time in 2008, Africa, from the aforementioned Mr. Fyah. Credentials like that alone would definitely make 2b1 one of the more well reputed labels of the moment but, as Reggae labels tend to come and go, its VERY refreshing know that they have been doing the exact same thing for years; well over a decade at this point. As I believe I said in reviewing another of their releases: They’re ‘threatening’ to become a SERIOUS player in Reggae music (and the case could be made that they are already) but I kind of hope that they stay kind of set in their ‘niche’ releasing predominately live albums with the occasional BIG studio release like Africa. Besides both Lutan Fyah albums and I-Wayne currently bubbling around the time (Africa was reportedly VERY commercially successful) and the rather forgotten detail that they’ve recently gone digital, previously existing as a physical product releasing only company (and hopefully they’ll tap into their back catalogue someday as well, with MANY strong products in the 2b1 vaults, including live albums from Capleton, Luciano, Junior Kelly and a ton of others (including LADY SAW of all people)) the fine people at 2b1 continue their ascent with products like this one. The artist in question here today is someone who two years ago or so you just COULDN’T IMAGINE having a live album as there seemed to be not only a great call for such a thing but no one willing to make the move in doing such a product but this label is apparently going after the hardcore heads. Well they’re doing a GREAT job. Why release a Chuck Fenda live album? He isn’t regarded as having one of the greatest stage shows in the game (although he is very good) but then again neither were Fyah or I-Wayne. Chuck Fenda, like those wonderful artists, is simply one of the most solid artists in the game so to answer the question: Why a Chuck Fenda live album? Why not. Fenda is amongst a group of artist to emerge in the Roots arena (although he is older) who are PROVEN hitmakers in Reggae, year in and year out he brings big tunes and has been doing so at this same level now for the last half decade or so. His stage show also has come along, although, to my opinion, it was never what I would call BAD actually but it now matches the fiery chanter he is on his music. The former Dancehall head born in New York, also retains that hard ‘edge’ to a degree and it most often will come across live and in person. On albums, Fenda currently has two out, the EXCELLENT Better Days from 2004 and 2007’s WICKED and underrated The Living Fire, both of which were received very well and definitely upped his international status. Now, 2b1 brings forth Chuck Fenda: Live In San Francisco, an album definitely different but one befitting one of the most talented and CONSISTENT Roots artists on the modern scene. Just as we’ve come to expect from them.

If you’re a fan of Chuck Fenda’s already, like myself, you’ll definitely recognize quite a few nice and popular tunes as expected. In this performance (like most of his, I would imagine) Fenda covers pretty much most of his hits from recent years and sounds in very fine form throughout which is reflected by the high crowd energy and participation at the venue, Club Six, also (at least at the start). Beginning Chuck Fenda’s Live In San Francisco is just a brief but INTENSE taste of his hit from a couple of years back on Christopher Birch’s Stage Time riddim, Cyan Cool which definitely gets the crowd’s attention and it’ll get yours as well as Fenda just gives a verse or so to get things lit before wheeling it up and heading into the next tune. Chuck Fenda doesn’t wait very long at all to call in the heavy artillery and delivers his MASSIVE hit, the controversial Gash Dem which flattens Club Six. Its always nice when an artist can go somewhere and have the audience really KNOW the song and with Gash Dem, Club Six, at times, threaten to drown out Fenda’s own vocals with their big response to the tune (even on the verses). Gash Dem sounds EXCELLENT here and is performed so well that its definitely my choice as the finest piece you’ll find on Fenda’s Live In San Francisco. Fenda tackles the Blaze riddim (biggup Pow Pow Movements) to close out the wicked opening of his set, with a nice rendition of the BIG Poor People Cry from back in the 5th Elements days of Fenda, Richie Spice and Anthony Cruz from the Poor People’s Defendah. He also ends the tune with a speech throwing it to the next one, which is a performance not to be missed.

From the way its presented if you wanted to say that All About Da Weed is the biggest performance here, I wouldn’t put up too much of a fuss. The tune begins halfway before the previous track runs its course with Fenda relaying a story of how he was pulled over and declared himself a “marijuana tree!”. This is a nice example of what I mean by how a performance can make you like a tune as I had to go back and draw on the Truths & Rights riddim for the nice studio version of the tune (and he even ends things by drawing on a tune from his good friend Richie Spice, Youths So Cold). Chuck Fenda fans will know every lyric on every tune as he just rolls through the hits. Jah Is Worthy over the EPIC Hard Times riddim sounds so nice and it keeps the crowd in nicely (despite a music fumble). I do have to say that the biggest disappointment on the show comes when Fenda reaches arguably his biggest hit to date, I Swear, where both he and the crowd inexplicably so to go into energy defunct. It comes too close to the beginning to be a matter of physical fatigue and both show energy afterwards, so I’m just calling I Swear a bad pull UNFORTUNATELY. Fenda and crowd seem to have things back together on the VERY NEXT TUNE as he dives into Murderer perhaps a little too briefly but things are leveled nicely as he continues to bring the big tunes. Haffi Win was a BIG tune and probably one of his most underrated (Better Days album) definitely and it sounds pretty good here as well but probably not as good as it could’ve or should’ve. Herbalist Farmer, a quite recent effort from Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor’s WICKED Drop It riddim probably has the best audio on the set and it just comes through so nice, definitely one of the show’s highlights there. Fenda even goes solo on the combination tune Coming Over Tonight (The Living Fire album), sans Cherine Anderson (who might make for a pretty nice live album 2b1) and it comes across quite well also. Of course you would have LOVED if Ms. Anderson made an appearance but Fenda does nicely by himself. Speaking of BY HIMSELF, Fenda’s BIG anthem for the mothers of the world, Oh Mama (Better Days album), comes through on this set with no music, a cappella style and is very nice and it reaches the audience nicely as well. I didn’t too much like chasing that one with Oh My Lord, which comes on an acoustic vibes, I think he should’ve ran the vibes back up and he honestly takes too long to do that for my tastes as neither Freedom Of Speech nor Material Things (STRONG tunes) get that energy back up (although Freedom Of Speech is very well received as it always is, I‘m sure). That role is serviced when the KNOCKING Better Days comes through and begins the final stretch of the show. Better Days is another tune like Haffi Win in that it definitely received its fair share of popularity, but to my ears, its every bit as strong as pretty much ANYTHING you’ll find in Fenda’s catalogue so far. Never Si Dis [Yet] is another strong piece and it resonates well here as it sounds EXCELLENT and you should definitely track down the studio version of that BIG tune which is one of Fenda’s more lyrically impressive outings and the performance features a surprise vibe or two. One of the better pieces right there. The fact that you can slow down and still keep the vibes up is reinforced by the presence of the LOVELY God Is My Witness across the Lava Splash riddim which is very nice in its brevity as is the show closer, Rough Out Deh (Better Days). This one is performed across a different riddim than the studio version and after a bit, it sounds so nice. Fenda himself doesn’t go so hard after the tune (like he should’ve) but I LOVE that song and you couldn’t flop it if you tried. And the same could be said about any Chuck Fenda performance, including this one.

I do have to say that throughout Chuck Fenda: Live In San Francisco and PROBABLY in most of his performances in general (although I’ve seen him perform several times and haven’t noticed it but never with him having as much time as here), he uses the pretty ‘standard’ call and response technique of, “Lemme hear you say whoa!. . . Say yeah. . .” and that definitely wears thin here to the point where later on you’ll feel inclined to skip ahead a bit (luckily almost every time he does it, its not during an actual song, but a wheel.

Overall, like the I-Wayne piece, Live In Oakland, Chuck Fenda: Live In San Francisco is not the BEST you’ll see from the artist, however, it is by no means a bad show. Fenda (nor I-Wayne) do those type of things to my knowledge. And with the rarity (until 2b1 began this ’streak’) of something like this, you’re more appealing to the hardcore heads who just like the idea of such a release and are far more likely to have seen the artist or just know the full range of power of the vibes. I myself have to say that I just LOVE the idea of taking so many modern artists and giving them an opportunity to have a live album in their catalogues. Next up for 2b1 is apparently Turbulence and Ky-mani Marley of all people and Fenda himself may be back later in 2009 with a studio release for genre leading VP Records (and if it happens it will be one of the year’s most anticipated projects definitely). But here, what you have is a nice shout for the loyal fans and I’m enjoying the vibes with the live albums. Now 2b1 just give me Cherine Anderson, Lutan Fyah again, Jah Mason, Spice, Chezidek, Buju, Assassin. . .

Rated 3/5 stars
2b1 Multimedia Inc.

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