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Leroy Smokes w/ Dred I Dread and Kanser (Saturday, March 12th, 2005, Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis)
Leroy Smokes headlined the Fine Line Saturday night wrapping up an evening of hip hop, reggae and comedy

By Helen Blodgett

The Fine Line filled up slowly Saturday night. But fill it did, the crowd going from sitting, to watching a few proud dancers, to pretty much everyone dancing. As it has been in each concert I’ve attended there, the place had a good vibe and it was nice to see the performers mingling and dancing in the crowd before and after taking the stage.

Kanser started the night out, filling the less glamorous role of lighting the kindling for the fire that was to come. Unicus and New (Zach Combs) held the mics.

As a person who hears music first and lyrics only if I concentrate, I was disappointed by the beats going on. They lacked fullness and enhanced the rapping only during a few songs. However, the highly political content of their message and the way in which they echoed each other and wove their verses together, kept me involved in the show, ready to hear what they’d say next. Phrases like, “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it just matters where you’re going,” would surface throughout the show, giving the performance the feel of an intense conversation that first develops, then ties up with what was said and grows again. Being a sucker for positivism, I liked their call and response, “Say, I love (I love) my life (my life)…”

While the fire did catch during Kanser’s performance, there was still some doubt about how hot the place would get during the break. Comedian Boima Freeman of the B96 morning show blew on the fire by asking people to get up and dance by paying for drinks for the one “freaky couple” dancing. That breath broke up the dancing a little while they went to get their drinks, but they came back and a few other people joined in, ultimately bringing new flames to welcome Dred I Dread to the stage.

Dred I Dread, featured Peewee Dread on vocals, who featured a giant purple hat on his head and a voice that sang with an obvious love for the music. Rawle G, the drummer from Kingston, gave us some fun interludes, talking happily from his nest of drums perched at the back of the stage. Everyone seemed so happy to be playing: the keyboardist, Eric Lilya, was hopping around with his hands somehow managing to stay steady. Floyd, the saxophonist/hand drummer, pulled out the air trombone during a song. He punched the slide out with so much conviction that my ears created the sound.

These musicians with so much enthusiasm converged with their gifts in 1998 to form the band. In their first year, they were hailed as the “Best Local Reggae Band” by City Pages.

While they sang the line “rumors of war,” it sounded right as Bush’s attention turns to Iran and Lebanon.

All of the acts spoke well to each other, filling the customary role of music as recording the history that doesn’t make the schoolbooks. Leroy Smokes finished the night. They’re a live hip hop band with no member with the name Leroy Smokes. The original guitar player was the namesake for the band, which started up in 1996. From their genesis as a punk group in high school, they have grown with new band members and ideas into their present full band, hip hop sound. Which on Saturday night, was in full force. The trumpet was gorgeous! During their first two songs, the keys player, Fred (Friendly) Gotfredson, conspired with the trumpeter, Kyle Borchert, folding in a Cuban montuno, bringing complexity and beauty to the set and emcee.

Toward the end, the band pared down the music to one voice, coming from bended knee, saying “We’ve all got one thing in common…and that’s that we’re going to die…that’s right…cool.” The people next to me unintentionally poured beer to the floor and people started dancing harder.

Helen Blodget is at h.blodgett[at]gmail.com