Yellowman does not stop. Literally bounding onto the stage of Moe's Alley, the "King of the Dancehall" tore through cut after cut after cut all while continuously jumping and dancing to an enthusiastic audience May 28 in Santa Cruz, Calif.
The theme of the night for the Jamaican deejay seemed to be enthusiasm for life itself. He frequently told the audience "I love you." During "A Letter to Rosie" he changed the end from "'til the day I die" to "I love you til the day I- LIVE! We don't die, we live!"
A survivor of multiple forms of cancer, it might be that Yellow feels that positivity and exercise are the keys to longevity. Without exaggeration, he gave HR circa 1981 a run for his money. During the entire 85-minute performance, Yellowman did not stop moving for a second. At times he was doing jumping jacks to the riddim. At others he was doing his trademark dance where he lifts up one leg and whirls back and fourth. At others he was pantomiming pulling a huge boulder.
Over the past 15 years, Yellow's voice has fluctuated due to the numerous operations he has had. A brief survey of his recent recordings suggests that his voice is succumbing to age and ailments. But, wonderfully, at Moe's Alley, his voice was broad and powerful--the strongest that it has been since 1990. Now a baritone, husky rumble, Yellowman's thick voice gave the refrains of his music extra punch.
Interestingly, his arrangements have changed quite a bit since the last time he was in the Bay Area. With about 40 hits to his name, Yellowman usually rips through tune after tune, playing each about half of the way through, leaving little room for rarities. As is common for deejays touring abroad, instead of being backed by a turntable, a live band played music while Yellow rhymed over the top. However, on this tour, instead of trimming his songs down, he is blowing them up into extended and newer versions. "Lost Mi Love" was probably the biggest surprise of the evening. Where it used to be a lovelorn call to a lost paramour, the live band charged it up into a thunderous Funkadelic rocker that trucked along with the weight of heavy metal.
Also interesting was Yellowman's heavy choice of oldies material. While Yellowman has frequently visited 1950s boppers, at Moe's Alley, he did about six versions of different oldies tunes. Additionally, he cut what might be a new track--an interesting take on Willie William's "Armageddon Time."* While Yellowman began the song as a lamentation of being poor, he merged it into a comedic number with the refrain "A lotta men won't get no woman tonight!"
Near the end, Yellowman blasted through a set of his biggest hits merged together, including "Zungazungaguzungazeng," "Mr. Chin" and "Bam Bam." Before leaving the stage for a final time, Yellowman offered a bit of advice that seems to function as a symbol of his outlook on life, "If you can't be good, then be honest. If you can't be honest, then be good. If you can't be good, and you can't be honest, then be careful. If you can't be good, and if you can't be honest, and if you can't be careful then… I love you."
-You might now the cover of "Armageddon Time" by a band that is just a little bit popular around here.
-Not to be sappy, but whenever I'm feeling "Woe is me, life is sooooo hard!" I think that if Yellowman can overcome multiple forms of cancer, being abandoned as a child, being born in abject poverty and countless other hills, I can damn well can take care of whatever whiny bullshit is bothering me.
-I've noticed a troubling trend of several prominent hardcore punk bands decrying that dancehall is homophobic as a whole and even "The genre has an extensive history of rampant gay-bashing in both lyric and graphic design." This sentiment seems to me to be applying a characteristic of some members of a group to a group as a whole, which is basically the definition of stereotyping…which I'm pretty sure is fundamentally un-punk. Further, I saw Yellowman (and lots of other dancehall dons) and he said not one negative thing about ANY group the entire night, and repeatedly expressed positivity and love for the human race. To those hardcore bands painting dancehall with a wide-brush, I'd encourage you to look beyond "Buju" and "Chukle Berry" and learn about the genre as a whole instead of jumping to unfounded conclusions…If you are a hardcore band and think that this vague missive might be directed at you and your xenophobic bullshit--it is.