Aw (rasta) shucks, indefatigable Steel Pulse won’t let go

Tahoe Onstage

Bassist Amlak Tafari and Steel Pulse rock the Crystal Bay Casino.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage photos

Steel Pulse, the king of roots reggae from the United Kingdom, has played songs about social injustice for 45 years. In concert on Wednesday, it played a mix of greatest hits along with five songs from its first album in 15 years. The encore ended with something unexpected.

“Don’t Let Go” is a goofy, being-in-love song: “Aw-shucks, won’t stop for a million bucks … Just hold me tight and don’t let go.” It’s been covered in every genre of rock: Western swing (Asleep at the Wheel), disco (Isaac Hayes), boogie-woogie (Jerry Lee Lewis), country (Mel Tillis and Sherry Bryce), doo-wop (The 4 Seasons), jam (Jerry Garcia Band) and most recently blues (Joe Louis Walker).

Here comes Rasta man: David Hinds

Add reggae to the mix. Closing out the night, indefatigable lead singer David Hinds played acoustic guitar and led Steel Pulse in the happiest version of the quintessential happy song.

Although it was a midweek night during the off-season in a tourist town, nearly 700 people filled the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room to see the legendary band that formed in 1975. Inspired by Bob Marley and the Wailers album “Catch A Fire,” the founders were from the Handsworth neighborhood of Birmingham, a city in England that parallels with Kingston, Jamaica in its poverty and strife.

Selwyn Brown joined the band in 1977. As the show was about to start, Brown stood behind his keyboards, made eye contact with smiling guitarist David “Cirious” Elecciri and pumped his fist. After all these years, a Steel Pulse concert is as exciting as ever.

The band started with its 1980 tune “Rally Round” and Hinds and his dreadlocks (“here comes Rasta man”) bounced onto the stage. The 63 year old nearly died of pneumonia in 2016. But he is spry and enthusiastic and has one of the most the most recognizable voices in reggae.

The rhythm section pulsates like no other with Wayne “C#” Clarke in his encased drum kit and Amlak Tafari, who is probably the greatest bassist in reggae and certainly the most photogenic. Before joining Steel Pulse, Tafari was a member of Pato Banton’s original Reggae Revolution Band in the 1990s.

Many of the songs played during the 90-minute show were classics from the early days, including “Soldiers” from the debut album in 1978. Anthemic “Babylon Makes The Rules” and “Steppin’ Out” were played along with “Don’t Shoot” a song written a few years ago after the killings of Eric Garner and 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The show never skipped a beat with tunes from “Mass Manipulation,” which was released on May 17. The song “Rize” was a highlight of the concert.

Hinds’ brush with death may have inspired him and his band. But it’s hard to tell because Steel Pulse has been a constant force in reggae for nearly five decades.

— Tim Parsons

  • Steel Pulse
    Oct. 9, 2019
    Crystal Bay Casino
  • Rally Round
    Chant a Psalm
    Wild Goose Chase
    Don’t Shoot*
    Drugs Squad
    Black and White Oppressors*
    Babylon Makes the Rules
    Stop You Coming and Come*
    A Who Responsible?
    Steppin’ Out
    Roller Skates
    Cry Cry Blood*
    Don’t Let Go
    *From new album “Mass Manipulation”

    Selwyn Brown joined Steel Pulse in 1977.

    Steel Pulse guitarist David “Cirious” Elecciri

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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