Josh Heinrichs & The Soul Riddim Band
The Wild Hare
August 27, 2010
From all outside appearances, the evening of August 27 was nothing out of the ordinary: just another hot, bustling, summer night in the swarming, hard drinking neighborhood of Chicago, known as Wrigleyville (due to its proximity to the historic Wrigley Field). But, on this night, The Wild Hare was playing host to Josh Heinrichs and The Soul Riddim Band. Heinrichs is the former lead-singer/songwriter for the band Jah Roots, a band whose music enjoyed critical acclaim and a nice indie-following from 2002 until they disbanded in early 2009. Now, Heinrichs was back with a collection of musicians who were each veterans of the energetic Midwestern reggae scene.
This was not Heinrichs first time playing The Wild Hare. In fact he has played it a half dozen times before over the previous two years with Jah Roots. However in contrast to previous performances, this one, set one month before his upcoming release, Josh Heinrichs and Friends, seemed to mark the first time he was truly embraced by the Windy City. Hours before Josh and his crew arrived, the club began filling with a diverse array of clamoring fans: frat boys double-fisting the night’s beer on special, forty-something-hipsters, young liberal idealists, and many members of Chicago’s vast Caribbean/African diasporas, all showed up to witness an ascending reggae musician known for his remarkable live performances.
Standing on stage before the maelstrom of clanking bottles and rising ribbons of smoke framing the expectant audience before him, Josh Heinrich with shorn dreadlocks replaced by a worn red baseball cap, untapped the first song of the evening, "Take A Chance," a cover of Hawaiian reggae singer Micah G’s local island hit. The crowd immediately fell in step and seemed to stay beneath the riddim rich spell for the duration of the concert. Rick Cole on lead guitar supplied blues-drenched licks that supported Heinrichs’ soulful pleadings on the song for desperate and unrequited love as bass and vocals frantically spilled from the relentlessly pounding house speakers. As the first song reached its end, it was obvious the crowd was well on their way to being soulfully-satiated. Following the first song of the night’s conclusion, Heinrichs’ words of thanks to his assembled followers were forced into submission by overwhelming collective cheers.
Next up was "Crucial," a Jah Roots standard and a song, it seemed many in attendance, had showed up to enjoy live. Former Jah Roots horn player Charles "Grant" Maledy’s brilliant play was now being interpreted in screeching, urgent chords by Cole’s lead guitar while Richard Fraught’s bass line bubbled out from the stage raising the full house to a frantic and joyful state. All the while, Heinrichs sang in his all-too-soulful voice. "Crucial your love is to me. So needed in a time when I could not be the man I wanted to be" Heinrichs sermonized. As the song dissolved to a finish, the crowd brimmed momentarily and then once again overflowed with appreciative applause which lasted long enough to delay the next song’s introduction by just under two full minutes. The guys on stage beamed with appreciative glances at the hundreds of those in the crowd who had come out to support them.
After a slight pause, the four-piece launched into a version of "Spliff and My Lady," which Heinrichs originally recorded as Jah Roots with Junior Marvin of Bob Marley and The Wailers fame, in early 2008. From the opening line "Baby, I would like it if we could just stay at home," until its dramatic ending, the enthusiastic audience sang along in unison and raised their collective Red Stripes in tribute to the song’s devoted heroine of whom Heinrichs sings: "She takes care of my children without a complaint."
The next few songs "Some Day," a cover of "Rebel Music," and a blues-inflected version of a fan-favorite entitled "Things Change," seemed to move the concert from its energetic opening down into the backstretch of this hour long showcase for fans who were either lucky enough to live in Chicago, or else set out on abbreviated pilgrimages from scattered locales throughout the American heartland.
Josh Heinrichs and The Soul Riddim Band, who is sufficiently staffed at drums by a very young and promising drummer named Ian Foreman, played on and finished up strong. The four-piece delivered up a song decrying the plight of humble people everywhere entitled "Poverty," a killer version of Third World’s "96 Degrees," a track off Heinrichs’ upcoming album entitled "New Love," and a hypnotic tune entitled "One To One" which seems to offer all the moral authority one could reasonably expect from a roots reggae track. Finally, amongst all the sweat, smoke, and praises from the audience, the set drew to a close and the houselights came on. Each member of the band waved enthusiastically to the teeming crowd and then vanished in turn to the pitch blackness behind.
As each of the four guys disappeared backstage, the memory of a meeting that happened earlier in night fleeted. The improvised meet up happened across the vast city of Chicago, on its south side, more specifically, at the Beverly Arts Center. The Original Wailers also were in town that hot August night, and it served as the perfect occasion for Josh Heinrichs to finally meet up with a former collaborator who he harbored deep admiration for: Junior Marvin. As the two embraced outside of The Original Wailers tour bus, a quiet and respectful Heinrichs listened as Marvin told him how, in his mind, "some" Americans might require a messenger whom they could "relate" to in order to receive reggae’s righteous message. "Because," as Marvin continued, "You and me, Josh, we are doing the same thing with our music … so let’s work hard to reach everyone we can."