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A Deep Dub Dream with Lee "Scratch" Perry

I have known of Lee "Scratch" Perry for a long time. His legend is vast. He appeared in a dream of mine once where he invited me to play keyboards on his new album that he was recording in the Pittsburgh suburb of Glenshaw. Getting deep into punk and post-punk, I had heard his name referenced by John Lydon, Joe Strummer, and others. Though I had listened to some dub-reggae before, mostly by The Clash, last year I got really into that style of musick when I was creating chiptune songs for my YouTube channel. I had read that Chip Tanaka, Nintendo's star composer in their early years in the console game business, was inspired by Linval Thompson's intense echo effects on his album Negrea Love Dub. I started listening to dub with that release, being sure to check out the others that I had heard of over the years, such as Augustus Pablo, Prince Far I, Scientist, Black Uhuru, Max Romeo, and of course, Lee "Scratch" Perry.

This year, Perry released a new album entitled Super Ape Returns to Conquer, a reimagining of his classic Super Ape album, which I actually had heard a while back. This time his backing band was Subatomic Sound System instead of The Upsetters. I was excited to hear the album, and then I saw something amazing - Lee "Scratch" Perry was doing a tour of some of US with that very same band! I couldn't believe it! He lives in Switzerland, and I had never heard of him coming here in the time that I knew his name. Now, of course, I wasn't following him particularly closely before I really got into dub, but I feel like I would have heard if he was coming to Pittsburgh. The thing is that he actually wasn't coming to Pittsburgh this time either. The closest I was going to get was New York City on October 25th, two days after my 28th birthday, and that was something that I was willing to do.

An avocado hummus wrap at Terri
Despite almost having a cool trip to New York with a friend, I ended up having to go alone by bus. I've done it before, so I didn't think much of it. The trip was kind of weird because I ended up being unable to sleep on the overnight bus, arriving in New York at the crack of dawn and feeling like a stripped wire, twitchy and unwell. Like Ginsberg's protagonists of "Howl", I dragged myself through those streets until I found the delicious food at Terri, a vegan sandwich shop. I spent the rest of the day wandering around Manhattan, making sure to finally stop at the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Center for once.

I had not brought much luggage, only staying in the city for one day, but it was still annoying to carry around. Plus, I had bought some stuff at the Nintendo store and a few games and books at Book Off and VideoGamesNewYork. I left the luggage at a luggage store using the Vertoe luggage storage system. It's kind of like an Airbnb for bags.

Dinner with a friend at Oasis in Williamsburg
After leaving the bag in that wonderful bag land, I proceeded to buy some other stuff at a thrift store I stumbled upon in the East Village. I really liked that neighborhood, lots of artsy kids and less giant neon signs and snobs. That may seem contradictory, but it makes sense to me. I got some CDs by Wesley Willis and Utra Bidé, some cool Converse shoes with colorful zig-zags, and a compilation of old rock 'n' roll songs. I also ended up meeting a little plush friend at a store called Cult Party in Brooklyn and brought them along to Oasis, one of my favorite restaurants. So much for leaving the bags behind.

With my new bundle of junk, I went up to Output and waited in the line to see the dub master. It was not a short wait. Output is sort of a fancy club, at least more so than any place I have ever been. They check you for weapons and the like and have a mandatory bag and coat check. Pfotos, videos, and pfone usage are not exactly prohibited, as that would be near impossible to really enforce, but they are heavily discouraged. Smoking is prohibited. I actually didn't mind these rules. It made me feel safer inside, and I liked having my belongings stored safely. I don't like being around smoke very much. While the pfoto stuff was a little disappointing, I didn't really mind it; it meant that the musick had to be more important than posting stuff to Twitter and Facebook.

The inside of Output was beautiful. Though I cannot show you a pfotograph, trust me when I say this. There was a slight fog so that trails of light enshrined both the main dancefloor and the open upper level. The lights were purple and green. It felt like a movie.

François K was DJing classic dub reggae songs as the club opened. This seemed more meant to just dance to and have a good time. It was nice and not too loud. Of course, this wasn't the main event.

In about an hour, a man took to the stage. He was not the man everybody was waiting for but a DJ and herald for the rest of Subatomic Sound System. Slowly, and with much fanfare, the DJ welcomed the famous conga player, Larry McDonald, and two horn players to the stage while he provided a bassline. The others joined in as they came in. I was glad to hear an Augustus Pablo cover. Excitement rose and rose as we awaited Lee "Scratch" Perry's arrival, and I feel like they really milked that excitement for all it was worth.

It was not disappointing when Perry did arrive. Covered with small trinkets on his clothes, Perry looked the part that I imagined, and, for a man of 81, he had the moves to back those looks up. Perry and his band went through several long jams, clouded in smoke.

The sound in the venue was excellent. The bass was a bit overpowering when I was right up close to the stage, but even still it was not bad. The vocals and other instruments became more clear on the second floor. The echo effects on the horns were so cool! I had some trouble getting around with the record and shirt that I had bought a the merch table. I wouldn't have got them before the end of the show if I hadn't been told they would sell out. They did sell out before the end, so I'm glad I got them when I did.

After a short break, Lee Perry and Subatomic Sound System returned for more, Perry greeting the audience with a new costume. They played for a whole additional hour! It was a lot to take in, and there were so many people there to take it in, the musick making everyone somewhat like a single being. The songs seemed to drift through each other with the raspy Perry floating over the top like a wizard from another world.

There's not as much to say about this show as I would like to since I was so tired and I have little media to review for myself. Somehow I did end up with that blurry pfoto above. The experience feels like a really weird and lifelike dream. I was so winded by the end, but it was a good experience. I was glad to get back in Pittsburgh, not doing much the next morning in New York except go to the Lego Store and rest inside a cafe. If Perry comes back to America, I will try to see him, though I will not travel again for it. Check him out if you get the chance. He still knows how to bring that deep rumble to yr soul.