Support band Solar Wolf seemed grateful for the gig and to be supporting Dreadzone. They are a trip hop, ambient and dub four piece live act with guest vocalist Coral joining them for the last two songs. They worked best for me when they had some vocals, but I can see this ambient vibe going down well in the early hours at festivals.
Dreadzone played the Phoenix in Exeter to a sold out crowd on Saturday and the show celebrated their 21 years as a band. Dreadzone are seen as forerunners of dub and bass with a unique blend of electro and reggae with music from their seven studio albums also incorporating dance, classical, folk and film soundtrack sound bites.
The band originally formed by ex Big Audio Dynamite members Greg Roberts (Greg Dread), Tim Bran and Leo Williams in 1993. Today Greg is on drums, with Leo on Bass, the melodically mesmerizing Jamaican singer Earl Sixteen, the ever charismatic Mc Spee also on vocals, with Chris Compton on guitar who joined after Greg’s brother Steve Roberts passed away in 2006, and Brazil on technology.
Dreadzone have a loyal following and always sell out when they play the South West. They have played Exeter several times over the years and Spee thanks those who keep coming and making Exeter so memorable for them – at once endearing himself to the audience. But MC Spee doesn’t need to compliment the crowd to gain their favour, he is a true showman and master of the stage and has our attention from his first grin.
Spee still uses a walking cane from knee ligament surgery some years previous and he sits on a high stall, but he exudes more energy, passion and entertainment than most standing singers. He taps his cane and orchestrates the crowd from his throne to bounce, or wave our arms in the air, clap or sing-along and we all happily obey as his humour and vocals has captivated us all.
It is a mixed crowd with an older audience and slightly more females, but the biggest surprise is the mass of teenagers near the front of the stage. About forty or so late teens/early twenty year olds are having a fantastic time dancing and singing along to the words they know. This seems to really please Spee and he often references them during the gig saying if they don’t know this particular classic track yet they will be lifelong Dreadzone fans afterwards. They squeal with delight and leap about. Many of the tracks were written before this youthful group were born, and here lies a beauty of Dreadzone as their music transcends ages.
Chris Compton got a lot of attention from the younger crowd as they were stood at his side of the stage and he often high fives them at the end of tracks, joins in with selfies and even passes them some bottles of water towards the end of the show. Great to see Chris having so much fun and audience interaction as he does stand to the right of stage with Leo taking centre stage flagged by the vocal talents of Earl Sixteen and Spee.
One of the really enjoyable elements of Dreadzone performances is the interaction of the band members. Greg gets up at the end of each song to join in and enjoy the applause and when the newer material from the their 7th studio album Escapades is received so well you see Greg and Spee smile, shake hands or hug – you feel like there is a genuine appreciation from the band at how the audience reacts to their music. As audience member this feels refreshing to witness the bands joy and it feels like a moment we are all sharing.
The hour and forty minute set is a mix of old and newer materials and performed to perfection. We kick off with ‘Return of the Dread’ from their 2001 ‘Sound’ album then straight into ‘Rise Up’ from their most recent album 2013 ‘Escapades’. There is ‘Life, Love and Unity’ and one of their earliest hits ‘Little Britain’ from the 1995 ‘Second Light’ album and we are treated to ‘Iron Shirt’ from 2005 ‘Once Upon A Time’, ‘American Dread’ from 2010 ‘Eye on the Horizon’ amongst others.
The set flies by with everyone dancing and singing along. During the final encore song ‘Captain’ I was pogoing with the room and ‘Ahoy-ing’ my heart out – it occurred to me I ought to calm down as I am not long out of hospital and recovering from an illness. I am not Captain of the Dreadzone crew, but the atmosphere was so infectious it was hard not to get carried away with the best of them. I went up to watch the rest of the last song from the balcony and literally the entire audience was leaping about as one singing their hearts out.
One of the most energetic, interactive crowds I have seen at the Phoenix – a testament to an excellent gig by Dreadzone and their loyal fan base. 21 years and still going strong.
Review by Molly-Mole
Photography by Phaze Photography www.phazephotography.com