We have been wanting to see Corey Harris in concert ever since we saw him perform a song with Henry Butler at the 2001 Handy Awards in Memphis. But whenever he has played in the area, we have been either out of town or had previous commitments. So when we heard that he was playing at the Regattabar, we were very excited. Craig and I arrived at the venue at around 7 o’clock for the 7:30 show. We were the first ones there and were seated at a front-row table about 5 feet in front of Corey Harris’ microphone. We knew we were in for a great night of entertainment, but we were hoping for the band’s sake that more of a crowd showed up.
More people did arrive, and there were probably about 50 or 60 people by the time they hit the stage. Craig and I were the only two seated at a four-person table, so there was plenty of room to sit comfortably. Corey and the 5x5 Band took the stage soon after 7:30. The band consisted of Corey on guitar, Ken Joseph from Trinidad on the drums, Ralph DuJour on bass, Gordon Jones on the sax, and Chris “Peanut” Whitley on keys and piano.
As they launched into their first tune, Craig immediately recognized it as Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. It was a nice jazzy instrumental treatment. Then Corey took the mic as they launched into a medley of songs from the albums Downhome Sophisticate and blu.black. Backlash was a standout. The band got into a groove immediately and blurred the lines between blues, reggae, and jazz. Brand new songs mingled with classic traditional fare like Catfish Blues. Having such a great seat in such a small crowd was awesome because we could fully make eye contact with the band as they played. They were clearly enjoying themselves and seemed glad that the audience was having fun as well. The crowd wasn’t huge, but they sure were attentive.
Corey explained that Sista Rose was written for a an old girlfriend in Cameroon. He performed Mami Wata with a poetry slam feel. They also played a couple of other selections from Daily Bread, including the title track and Got to Be a Better Way.
Song after song was familiar to us. The band eventually took a break and Corey switched to his acoustic guitar. He sat down (once again 5 feet in front of us) and started to play. He played a song that he said he just recently wrote about Paul Bogle, a Jamaican revolutionary from the Morant Bay Rebellion . He then introduced Skip James’ Special Rider Blues by saying that he recorded it in Niafunke, Mali with Ali Farka Toure. It was a great little acoustic set.
Then the band came back and played a few more tunes. They finished up the night with Corey calling an audible for Sweatshop. They finished at around 9:15, perfect for a weeknight show. We got to speak with Corey and talked to him a little bit about Mali. Craig apologized for the low turn-out and Corey said “Hey, not your fault. You did your part!” He signed our discs and we got a photo with him. We then spoke to Peanut and had him sign a disc for us as well (blu.black, which he produced). He was happy that we already owned the disc (which they were selling at the show) and had had a chance to hear it. He told us that they worked really hard on the album and that it took them several months to make it; that they would work on one song for a week at a time just to get it perfect. Craig said that we loved that they opened with Redemption Song and Peanut laughed. He said that they did that “to mess with people’s minds because we look like a reggae band and we wanted to have fun and challenge people’s expectations.” They did indeed look like a reggae band, three of them were sporting long dreads, and Corey’s were tucked up into a tall hat. He’s a tall guy to begin with, but this made him look even taller.
Everyone we spoke to was incredibly nice, and really gracious. They really took the time to talk with us. On our way out we saw the drummer, Ken Joseph, sitting at a table. He had really noticed Craig grooving in the audience, and asked if he plays drums. He told Craig that “he has the hair for it” (pointing to his own bald head). He shook our hands and said that sometimes they really prefer to play for smaller crowds than in giant halls. He thanked us for coming out and invited us to head down to the Narrows in Fall River on Saturday night to see them again.
If you are a music fan into blues jazz, or reggae, GO SEE THIS SHOW. You will not be disappointed. We were absolutely blown away.