MUSIC REVIEW: Destroy Babylon rocks The Beachcomber in Quincy
Published in The Patriot Ledger By Jay N. Miller
September 5, 2010
QUINCY - Hurricane Earl turned out to be pretty much of a wet noodle, with surf along Wollaston Beach not much more severe than normal Friday night, but there was plenty of musical action inside The Beachcomber, where Destroy Babylon’s rock/reggae/jazz blend kept things hopping all night.
Destroy Babylon comes from the reggae hotbed of Hudson, New Hampshire (that’s satire–bazinga!), but the sextet all relocated to Boston more than five years ago to pursue their musical goals. The members all have fulltime day jobs, but continue to try to forge new paths in reggae in city clubs and beyond.
Friday’s show was only the band’s second at The Beachcomber, and if the storm’s presence–and the usual media panic–kept the crowd numbers down, it did little to stifle the enthusiasm of the sextet. “We love playing this club,” said guitarist/vocalist John Beaudette. “It’s always a fun, lively crowd that appreciates good music, and we want to come back as often as possible.”
Destroy Babylon includes Beaudette’s twin brother Marc on drums, Rob Carmichael on lead guitar and vocals, Chris Moran on bass, Andy Bergman on baritone sax, and Jay Buhl on tenor sax and flute.
“We’re not just a reggae band,” John Beaudette pointed out. “We don’t play just straight reggae–we like to have fun with the songs. I grew up playing trumpet, so Miles Davis was my first musical model, and rock and jazz are very much a part of our mix.”
Two things jump out at listeners when Destroy Babylon begins to play; the sextet is effortlessly in the pocket, hitting the groove unerringly whatever the tempo, and their vocals are first-rate. John Beaudette and Carmichael share lead vocal duties, and both have clear, resonant baritones that make the words superbly distinct above the sound mix. Both are also kind of laidback and fearless about taking big vocal chances, most of which they pull off flawlessly–like Carmichael’s falsetto turn on MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” or John Beaudette’s warmly tongue-in-cheek take on Soul Syndicate’s “Marijuana.” Such versatility and consistent quality makes for exciting music.
An early set highlight was the sextet’s reggae-fied rendition of Bill Withers’ old classic “Ain’t No Sunshine,” where Carmichael’s lead vocal managed to be soulful while also totally in the groove. A medley crunching “What’s My Number” with “Pressure Drop” together featured vibrant horn choruses and a tempo that kept speeding up, as if multi-genre shapeshifters Fishbone had gone to Jamaica.
That kind of improvisational flavor continued with the shifting tempos of “Echo Chamber,” whose horn-centered jams led to the hip-shaking tones of “Freeze.” Destroy Babylon’s rhythm section is impeccably in the pocket, and whoever is writing the horn charts is doing a masterful job of providing surprises every few measures.
The late set began with a long instrumental by the core quartet, minus the horns, where Carmichael and John Beaudette displayed some admirable guitar chops, but the rhythmic foundation laid down by Marc Beaudette’s drums and Moran’s bass really carried the day. The reggae chestnut “Revolution Rock” got a fast-paced rendition, with sizzling horn accents and an entirely unexpected melodica solo from John Beaudette.
Paying some homage to their musical forebears, The Clash, Destroy Babylon did the reggae re-working of “Stagger Lee,” which is “Wrong ‘Em Boyo.” The dancefloor highlight of the night had to be the band’s cover of The English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom,” delivered at a pell mell pace with serrating guitar lines working off baritone sax accents, beneath the usual fine vocals.
Destroy Babylon is even cheeky enough to do a reggae version of The Beatles’ “Something,” and again Carmichael’s vocal was a perfect amalgam of the original song’s feeling and the lilting reggae beat. For the first time in concert, Destroy Babylon tackled MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” and Carmichael’s falsetto made the elctronica/pop tune an enticing, if silly, nugget. That woozy stroll through the tune “Marijuana,” previously mentioned, also featured an extended flute solo from Buhl, which added immensely to the song’s ethereal vibe. You might not think flute would work in reggae–but think again, for Buhl’s dreamy melodicism was truly moving.
Bunny Wailer’s “Dreamland” became kind of an anthemic march as Destroy Babylon kept the momentum going.
For its finale the sextet did another musical mashup, apparently called “Give Me All Of Your Love,” which boasted slashing guitar lines with punk-rock potency, over an easy-rocking reggae framework that made for superb contrast in what was almost a ballad. Unexpected twists and turns like that made Destroy Babylon a fascinating discovery.
The Braintree trio Rhyging–-named for a legendary Jamaican outlaw/Robin Hood figure central to reggae lore–opened with their own lively rock/reggae–and then stuck around to loan John Beaudette an extra guitar for the late set.
Destroy Babylon performs Sept. 25 at the Middle East in Cambridge, opening for ska kings The Toasters.
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