Toots and the Maytals @ the Palace, 24th April, 2011

3 out of 10: Toots surrounded by mediocrity

It must be a political statement against nepotism: the show begins with Toots’ daughter singing an execrable reggae-muzak version of John Waite’s middle-of-the-road Missing You. After the song is done, she quietly takes up her spot behind a backing singer’s mic, a spot that should really be for a Maytal, and Toots, her legendary father, enters stage right.

Toots is looking ridiculously fine. Toots’ bright red outfit, a stunning throwback to Eddie Murphy’s finer days, sits snugly over his bulbous, middle-aged paunch, while his swagger and black-as-night sunglasses make for a kitschy-cool combination perhaps no other 65 year old could pull off. From the outset, it’s clear that Toots’ voice and its soulful, gospel inflections have only improved with age and his very own funky dance steps remain timeless. But right from the outset, it’s also clear that even though tonight has been billed as Toots and the Maytals, it’s not the Maytals that the world has grown up with that are on stage and the backing band is not a patch on the Skatalites.

The backing band is practically invisible. They’re hardly better than a covers band and there is little cohesion or energy Toots can work with. Although the classic Pressure Drop is the first song Toots sings, the band’s inability to nail the rhythm has the audience raising its collective eyebrow. No member of the band will end up being introduced to the audience and the show might have been better off if they weren’t there at all.

A night of Toots singing Funky Kingston, Sweet and Dandy, Louie Louie and Monkey Man should be a delight, but everything meanders. The only saving grace is Toots’ rambunctious stage presence and booming voice, especially on the songs whose gospel influences are more apparent. But even these vocal moments of joy are hamstrung by microphones dropping in and out, all of which left Toots bemoaning to his sound crew at one point, “I have a big voice — why you try and make it small?”

The punchy 54-46 Was My Number is the last song, the kind of upbeat classic that is capable of turning the memory of an ordinary night of barely middling rocksteady and reggae into a happy one. Midway through a bizarre four-on-the-floor disco interlude, no one can say for sure whether the first or last song of the night is the most bemusing.

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