Salmonella Dub at the HiFi Bar

4 out of 10: They need a frontman

The HiFi is half-filled with dub fiends, half of whom confuse sex with six. The crowd is sparse, but so is the music: Salmonella Dub are launching their new album, Freak Controller, the second since their long-time frontman Tiki Taane left the band to launch a solo career.

Much like Australia’s Cruel Sea, New Zealand’s Salmonella Dub have enjoyed a long career as an instrumental band at heart for whom vocals are an added extra. Not surprisingly, then, the loss of Taane has not greatly shaken the band; live, though, there are problems.

Salmonella Dub’s drummer, David Deakins, takes on the vocal duties in the absence of the more accomplished singers who appear on their recorded work. Thankfully, Salmonella Dub’s instrumental focus means we don’t hear Deakins sing too much; nevertheless, the lack of some kind of leader, driver and all-round spruiker renders void the band’s presence on stage.

Even more problematic is the percussion. On certain tracks, shambolic percussion that sounds as ordinary as the drumming of patchouli-scented hippies that befoul the serenity of summer nights is added to proceedings. One would hope that the messy beats are a one-off problem caused by technical issues rather than a more permanent deficiency in their performance.

Despite the shortcomings, the crowd is rapturous and engaged. And on the dub tracks, there’s good reason for such exuberance: when they turn the reverb up to eleven, Salmonella Dub do indeed evoke the feeling of a spliff – as all good dub should. The reverb on the live brass instruments sound especially good, as does the bounce of the bass. For perhaps the first time, I regret the prohibition of smoking indoors; the smoke from lit weed is conspicuous in its absence.

The continued quality of the reggae numbers confirms the impression: any time Salmonella Dub draw inspiration from anywhere outside Jamaica, the music suffers. It’s as if any musical voyages beyond Jamaica land them in the distorting straits of the Bermuda triangle. Be that as it may, Salmonella Dub do leave their audience in high spirits, and any departure from the three major chords of Melbourne’s countless rock bands is a welcome addition to the city’s musical offerings. Salmonella Dub have behind them a history of brilliant shows; tonight’s performance is not one of them. Nevertheless, Salmonella Dub have enough credits in the bank and such a solid dub style that a ticket to their next show will still be worth pursuing.

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