David “Dread” Hinds has a Steel Pulse.
The frontman and founding member of the enduring Birmingham, England, reggae band was an irie bundle of energy Wednesday night when Steel Pulse delivered 90 minutes of social commentary in song to a record crowd of 820 in Crystal Bay Casino’s newly renovated Crown Room.
Roaring louder than a reggae lion, fans were all about it, providing backing vocals to familar songs. Concertgoers ranged from twentysomethings to seasoned seniors who have imbibed in the band’s vibes for 35-plus years. The musicians drew from their entire catalogue, delivering an 11-song, hour-long first set and a four-song encore.
It almost wasn’t so. Hinds survived a serious bout with pneumonia last winter. Steel Pulse canceled a January appearance at Cargo Concert Hall in Reno when Hinds was hospitalized. It didn’t resume touring for almost two months.
“We almost lost him,” keyboardist Selwyn Brown told Tahoe Onstage before the show. Brown has been singing and playing alongside Hinds since 1977, two years after Steel Pulse was formed in the inner city area of Handsworth. Ten years later the band became the first non-Jamaican group to win a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.
A happy and rasta-strong Hinds was all over the stage from the get go, sometimes playing the rhythm guitar, sometimes singing without, and even added more cowbells to one tune. He danced with Brown and with backup vocalist Keysha McTaggart, rarely standing still. He directed traffic during high-powered solos by saxophone/clarinet player James Johnson, lead guitarist David “Cirious” Elecciri and 5-string bassist Amlak Tafari. Wayne “C#” Clarke played drums inside a sound-protected fortress and was flanked by keyboardist Sidney Mills and percussionist Hashim “Scorpion” Russell.
Reggae bands often implore fans to “get your hands in the air,” but when Steel Pulse repeated “I’ve got my hands up,” the lyrics were accompanied by “I can’t breathe” and “don’t shoot,” referring to the 2014 death of Eric Garner during an arrest by police in Staten Island, New York City.
“Don’t shoot” came during the encore, and the well-packed, sweaty crowd understood the context. “Steppin Out” followed, “Here comes the Rastaman — catch me if you can.” The close came time for a call for to a “Taxi Driver,” but the cab refused to stop and pick up the dudes with dreads.
The band passed out set lists to some lucky ladies at the end of the show, and Selwyn Brown lingered a bit to take of pictures of the satisfied Crystal Bay Club crowd: “Peace and Love. See you next time.” The righteous reggae continues to roll toward a fourth decade.