Michael Rose Sirius Stage, Harbourfront Centre August 2, 2008

Michael Rose Sirius Stage, Harbourfront Centre August 2, 2008
It should a be an island breeze for veteran reggae singer to give a crowd exactly what they want. As the former — and occasionally current — lead singer of Black Uhuru, one of the greatest bands in reggae history, he’s got more than enough internationally recognized songs to guarantee Bic flicking on the regular. But it didn’t work out that way for his performance at Toronto’s Harborfront Centre. Toronto’s Hard Core band opened with an instrumental medley of Uhuru hits, as the crowd, who were composed of more sedate Caribana-associated revellers and greying veterans of Negril vacations, were primed and ready. Rose emerged in sunglasses and a black and white tam that was stuffed so tightly with his dreadlocks it was like Jiffy Pop package ready to explode. It was immediately clear that he had misjudged the audience by opening with the relatively little-known "Israel” from Babylon 9/11. This is a good album but it’s four years old, and never achieved crossover appeal in North America. Still, its sparseness provided everyone space to work out their kinks and for Rose get his voice up to speed. To his credit, Rose sounds the same at 50 as he did at 25, but unlike most veterans, he seemed determined to play the show he wanted rather, than sense what the audience desired. He kicked off the biggest hit he’s had this decade "Too Blessed To Be Stressed” with the claim "this song made the world come together after 9/11,” but delivered a somnambulant performance that sent people to the exits. Though this was only the third song of his set, it underlined the fickle tastes of patrons of free music festivals. We’re in the dog days of summer now; people may have stuck it out for longer in late June, but they’ve seen enough so-so concerts by August not to give a performer the benefit of the doubt when he’s struggling. Rose didn’t get into Uhuru material until well after half an hour of non-stop, ineffective audience participation baiting had tempered the mood for the remainder of the crowd. When he launched into Uhuru’s "Shine Eye Gal”, things came to life, but Rose dissipated the energy with the pointless call and response tactics until there was nothing left but his call. Dragged down by so many momentum problems, the most lively moment of the show came about when Rose declared his support of Barack Obama: now there’s a guy who knows how to pace a show.