Date: Friday, November 2nd, 2012
Line-up: John Brown’s Body
Location: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom. Denver, CO
To call the artists that comprise John Brown’s Body as your everyday musicians is unwise. The eight members of the pioneering east coast reggae band that is John Brown’s Body, are musical surgeons with their instruments.
Walking up the street in downtown Denver’s historic Five Points District, I was aware that the show was going to unveil new and uncharted territories for my musical palette. Living on the west coast, unfortunately, I had never taken the opportunity to attend a JBB show live and in person. However, from all corners outside of Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom the crowd was already buzzing with anticipation for a similar experience.
With the venue nearing its 750-person capacity and attendees still flowing through the doors, John Brown’s Body was about to hit the stage before the clock struck midnight. The dance floor was already fully explored by the crowd, following a stellar opening performance by 11-piece jam band locally from Denver, Atomga.
As The Pier stood outside to capture photos of the stylishly lit marquee and more and more fans continued to arrive, as an opening instrumental started up. Wondering if it was JBB, all I could think was, “I haven’t heard Elliot Martin’s iconic voice yet”. Unsure about whether it was in fact JBB, the precision and execution from the rhythm section and horns solidified my thought. JBB was about to takeover downtown Denver by sound!
Opening up with an extended instrumental, highlighting all facets of John Brown’s Body with musical introductions from each of the three horn players, the keyboardist, guitarist, as well as the constant thumping of Tommy Benedetti on drums and Nate Edgar on bass. Soon enough, the instantly recognizable voice of Elliot Martin graced Denver’s ears with the song “Be At Peace”.
Maybe three minutes into JBB’s set, the crowd was already hooked on the sound. As a first time JBB attendee, I was taken back by the overpowering sound that eight band members can portray onto a crowd, because it honestly sounds like there could be sixteen members in the band. With a trombone, saxophone and a trumpet, the brass harmonizing added their own jazz infused layers to JBB’s future roots-reggae sound.
One aspect of a John Brown’s Body performance that cannot go overlooked is the efficiency and clarity of the sound. The front of house sound engineer, Kenny Christiansen, crafted each second of music during the show to sound even better than their recorded material. Often times a band merely tries to live up to their studio album versions of each song, but John Brown’s Body takes a four-minute song like, “Bread” and extended the song to over six-minutes of un-ending dub effects.
John Brown’s Body is a band that is unlike any other. They experiment with so many unique sounds with instruments that many of the other bands have in their repertoire, but the full, all-encompassing sound that JBB plays live is truly unlike any other band. For a good portion of some generic reggae-rock bands in this genre, the tempo could remain the same for the majority of the show. With John Brown’s Body taking hold of the stage, the crowd was ready for the musical journey the band’s sound guides you through, changing styles with ease.
It’s not just the sound that makes John Brown’s Body a great live show, the lyrics truly touch your soul. With a song title like, “Give Yourself Over”, nearly seven minutes of inspirational messages burst out of the speakers like an epiphany. With the combination of feel good music and positive messages flowing like running water, the crowd and band became one inside Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom.
The visual aspect of the show could not have been more pertinent, either. With lead singer, Elliot Martin, dressed in a firmly pressed shirt and jeans, it was a good thing he wore athletic sneakers on stage. It was almost like Martin was running a marathon throughout the band’s set. Not one concertgoer had an obstructed view as Martin moved about the stage, coming up to the front row and almost singing right into the faces of every single fan. In the same light, bassist, Nate Edgar, is a pure showman with the bass. Some say music is all about love, especially reggae music, and watching Edgar rock the bass all night, it literally looked like he was making love to his instrument.
For a band like John Brown’s Body, the music is everything to them. For the attendees present, honestly, even if some were hard of hearing, they would still feel the music rumbling through their bones. The music that John Brown’s Body plays, runs straight to your core, and remains with you long after their performance.
If you were like me prior to this performance, and regretfully missed out on past JBB performances, do yourself a favor and attend their next show near you. Your mind, body and soul will thank you later. And, so will John Brown’s Body!
JBB Set List:
Be At Peace
Follow Into Shadow
Isle of Springs
The Cup Dub
This and That