July 19, 2012
It was especially good hearing David Hinds voice on the other end of the line since the last time I saw him, he couldn’t get a word out.
The Steel Pulse singer is one of reggae’s towering figures, yet at his previous appearance in Boston in February, Hinds was reduced to egging on the crowd with slinky dance moves. His voice was shot and a shoulder injury prevented him from even joining in on guitar.
What was going through his mind?
“I wished I invented a machine to disappear into thin air,” Hinds says in a thick, Caribbean-tinged British accent.
But here’s the thing: Steel Pulse pulled it off that night. Keyboard player Selwyn Brown (who, like Hinds goes back to the band’s birth in 1975 in the Handsworth section of Birmingham, England) took over the vocals and the show flowed just about as well as any Steel Pulse concert could. It was a testament to how tightly knit the band remains and to how strong the material is; classic tracks such as “Steppin’ Out,” “Not King James Version,” and “Roller Skates” carried the night.
Steel Pulse comes back to Boston on Friday, playing the Paradise this time. To make amends for the last show, those bringing a ticket stub from the February concert can get a $5 discount off of Steel Pulse merchandise sold at the show.
Steel Pulse is putting the finishing touches on its first studio album since 2004’s African Holocaust, but it’s not like this rebellious troupe has been quiet – especially Hinds, who has taken to the Internet to air his views on politics and history.
The Steel Pulse website (www.steelpulse.com) and affiliated Twitter feed and Facebook page have become a clearinghouses for news about Pan-African politics, historical anniversaries, and editorials, all penned by Hinds.
“Twitter and MySpace were all mumbo jumbo to me. I’m not about ‘Guess what I had for dinner?’ But some friends said I need a presence,” Hinds says. “But I want to talk about the things I like to talk about. I am a student of history – black history ¬– so I took to the message boards to talk about dates and events. I think that is necessary to the kind of music we do. It’s where the music comes from.”
From its early songs about overcoming racism and poverty, Steel Pulse has always flashed a political edge with its music, but balanced that with a calming, richly grooved hopefulness. While Steel Pulse still typically pays tribute to Bob Marley in concert, the Grammy-winning group itself has ascended to the upper echelons of reggae royalty.
Still, Steel Pulse does not bask in its success. The band rallies support for humanitarian efforts such as helping survivors of Hurricane Katrina in this country and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. And Hinds still gets nervous when approaching new work.
“After the acclaim, it’s hard to put out songs,” Hinds says. “I get apprehensive until a couple of close friends hear the songs and tell me, ‘David, you haven’t lost it.’”
Steel Pulse and the Dr. Doom Orchestra play at 9 p.m., July 20 at the Paradise, 967 Commonwealth Ave., Boston.
Scott McLennan is a music correspondent for the Boston Globe and former entertainment columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. His work as taken him from the Newport Folk Festival to the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and many musical points in between. Scott also writes about skiing for Hawthorn Publications.
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