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Rock's Backpages - Tosh in monotone

Tosh in monotone Vivien Goldman, Melody Maker, 16 December 1978

Peter Tosh did three nights in London, and I attended two. Why is it always the night I'm not there that everybody raves about? In this instance, the score reads something like: Rainbow I — 5; Rainbow II — 9; Venue — 7. The first night at the Rainbow, Tosh and Words, Sound & Power materialised well late. They were help up even longer by a crowd of dreads who all felt they should get in the backstage door for free. The audience as a whole resented sitting around for two hours for Peter to emerge, and, when he finally started singing, showed their frustration by jumping up on their seats for a few rows at the front. The seat-standers remained standing, but nobody leapt up to join them, and by and large the atmosphere was pretty flat. As a performing artist, Tosh is obviously making some connections. Jamaican audiences don’t like Marley running round the stage shaking his locks as he's learnt to do for a white rock audience. Just so, Peter would ideally like to just stand up there well strong, you no see it, and not move around too much. But after an American tour where standing around didn't earn him many new fans, he's got wise to slipping off the rhythm guitar and stamping round the stage, in his customised leather ankle-boots with the marijuana flower on the toe and red/green/gold buttons up the side. Since he's already coming to terms with performing, it would be nice to see him really let rip with the old karate kicks of which he's a master; ‘til that time, be grateful his band is so good ... they pretty much compensated for Peter's monotone approach; his performance was the weakest link in the stellar R. Shakespeare / Sly / Al Anderson / Keith Stirling / Chung / Tamlins axis. Still, they say, the next night at the Rainbow was great, but I wasn't there. It was at that show that someone said the band should play an extra set at the Venue the following night. For some reason, it was agreed, and Peter schlepped himself forth once more, very unwillingly. All the militancy — waving handcuffs and ranting about black oppression and the "shitstem" — that made a couple (white) beside me very twitchy indeed, was gone; instead, Peter looked as excited as if he was waiting for the 52 bus, and pained as if he was coming out from the anaesthetic. This unwillingness manifested itself in a slower, relaxed set, more like a low-key jam, that I found much more enjoyable than the Rainbow. They played the same set as the Rainbow — ‘I'm The Toughest’, ‘Stepping Razor’, ‘Equal Rights,’ ‘Don't Look Back,’ ‘Get Up Stand Up,’ ‘Pick Myself Up,’ ‘Bush Doctor.’ At the end of the show, Peter loped off with little of his customary fire. When called back for an encore, he responded with his best performance of either night — the classic pre-release single, ‘Babylon Queendom’, aimed straight at Buck House's head. The band simulated, the animal noises on the 45 with admirable zest, notably keyboards-style; Peter danced like one who dances on the neck of his captives. A truly triumphant finale, which was topped by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare's drum and bass battle, Robbie lunging and dancing round Sly as if his finger wasn't all torn and bloodied, which it was, and as if he didn't have 'flu, which he did. © Vivien Goldman, 1978

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