All Beres Hammond ever thinks about is love—about giving it out and getting it back. “This is truly a love affair,” reggae’s Ovid told the Central Park SummerStage audience last Sunday. Even the truth-and-rights anthem “Putting Up Resistance” beamed the “ain’t too proud to beg” passion that colored selections from Beres’s book of love, stuffed with classic fables of romantic antics like “What One Dance Can Do,” “Tempted to Touch,” and “She Loves Me Now”—each engraved in reggae memory. And it all came wrapped up in a smile that pierced through the clouds and lit up a dreary afternoon. “Ain’t love grand?” he seemed to be saying, as tears crowded that whiskey-grained, baritone “please, baby, please please please,” and the audience sang every word along with him. As always, men appreciated the insights into the female psyche’s twists and pleats; women were simply grateful to be understood. Norris Man and Anthony B, the opening acts, were happy to be included, and Buju Banton was in town, so he had to step onstage with Beres. Hammond nices up audiences with such finesse that everyone wants to move close to his warmth—even rod-of-correction-brandishing, robe-of-the-prophet-wearing young firebrands like Anthony B, whose set scorched with equal passion and dramatic flair, albeit a harder, sterner kind of reggae love.
Casual in baseball cap and easy-fit linen pants and shirt, Beres brought to the party nearly three decades of recording and performing that finally earned him absolute rule over the reggae dominion only a few years ago. Anthony B has also been soaring since his ’94 smash debut, “Fire Pon Rome,” and his recent hit, “Mr. Heartless,” both of which call out the names of the Big Men who run Jamaica—and elsewhere. Evoking no less a master of musical confrontation than Peter Tosh, Anthony B worked the admirable canon he’s built up, along with Tosh’s “Equal Rights” and a cover of his cover of “Johnny B. Goode.” Tall and princely, the chanter proved that, like Beres, he is that rare artist who can yearn for the past—when One Love nearly ruled—and still kick bodies all over today’s dancefloors. —Elena Oumano
The Elder has a question: Do you want to be fixed? Well if the Lord can fix me as good as He did Elder Edward Babb, that’s a bargain at any price. Babb (55 years old according to the NEA Web site) is a white-haired whirlwind: tromboning, singing, preaching, marching, tromboning again. I had been contentedly finishing a chicken dinner (delivered to the Anchorage to simulate the gospel church experience) when Babb’s group, the McCollough Sons of Thunder, took the stage at a late July show, and even I, a dedicated bone gnawer, gave my plate the heave-ho. As I learned it in History of Afro-American Music, vocals equals sacred, instruments sinful: You don’t blow your own horn in the house of the Lord. The Sons of Thunder aren’t afraid to blow their horns in church or in the bowels of the Brooklyn Bridge.
And do they ever have some to blow: sousaphone, tuba, and seven trombones. Only half the regular contingent, and still their thunder was a damn good impression of the voice of God (trust me). The composer Lois Vierk told me she wrote a piece for six trumpets because, by excluding timbral variation, she can get more power without sacrificing subtlety. The Sons of Thunder are rich with sophisticated, improvised harmonies that come from playing out weekly for decades. They will also blow off the top of your head and put it back on right. If you need fixing, the Thunderbirds play the United House of Prayer, opposite the Apollo, on Sundays; atheist wallflowers should pick up Saints’ Paradise, which records the church’s singular, New Orleans-via-Massachusetts style of “trombone shout.”
The Anchorage is a neat, ambiguous space for a gospel show. It’s vaulted and stone, churchlike, but also windowless and dank as Hades. The acoustics are often described as fascinating, meaning they suck, and the SRC All-City Gospel Chorale had a tough time of it. Choral parts benefited from the boomy resonance, but soloists were lost. On other nights, Music in the Anchorage, Creative Time’s annual festival here, featured A Guy Called Gerald and a program called Desi Breakbeat Culture, which probably fared better. The space also worked for New Symphonics, with Annie Gosfield, Phil Kline, and a Glenn Branca premiere. “Symphonics” means a bloody din, sound as impact. Each piece started exactly as the previous one—in another cavernous chamber—ended, a simple device that turned a concert into an event. When Branca’s team of electric guitarists hit their first (and only) chord, I swear I was knocked into the cold stone behind me. After that, I needed to be fixed. —David Krasnow