LIVE REVIEW: The Aggrolites, The Bread Shed, Manchester, Saturday 7 December 2019
Los Angeles band The Aggrolites wrapped up the UK leg of their 30-date European tour with a stunning show of old-school reggae, bringing the sunshine sound of LA to the rainy streets of Manchester.
Tonight’s show was opened by The Crash Mats , who I sadly missed because of train disruption. You can read a review of a recent show supporting Los Fastidios here.
Next up were One Eyed God, a punk-ska-folk mash-up, which went down well with what seemed a local following. They play a mix of sax/clarinet and bouzouki-driven protest/political songs. The best was Get Off Your Knees, described as an “electioneering call” given the imminence of the UK’s latest round of voting for the government winning despite the vote.
The title of the song reminded me of an old Amebix track (Arise) with its chorus of “get up off your knees” but was musically very different from that ‘80s crust sludge!
The Aggrolites took the stage at 8.30pm and played 90 minutes of fantastic skinhead reggae, ska and lovers’ rock which turned out to be a ‘best of’ their six album releases.
Having never seen the band before I was more than curious as to how they would sound live. Although introduced to their brilliant first album Dirty Reggae via The John Peel Show in 2004, and being familiar with their first two albums, I hadn’t really followed them over the last 10 years. That was my loss, as proved tonight by the band’s slick, tight performance.
When they took to the stage, without fuss, the organist ripped straight into the first track. They went on to play most of Dirty Reggae and their self-titled second album, with a good helping of latest release Reggae Now! (reviewed here) and a ton of Jamaican ska/reggae cover versions. Highlights of the latter included instrumentals by the Skatalites, Dandy Livingstone’s Message To You, Rudy, and Harry J All Stars’ The Liquidator (which will be familiar to Chelsea fans, but had the refrain of ‘Aggro’ instead of ‘Chelsea’).
At the centre of the show was the Hammond XK3 organ. I never realised how central this instrument and charismatic player Roger Rivas are to The Aggrolites’ sound – until tonight. It should have been obvious at the onset when the roadies placed the ton weight organ in front and left centre of the stage during the set up. And what a sound it produced, complemented by skanking guitars and a bass-heavy backbeat throughout.
I didn’t expect The Aggrolites to be so accomplished in the “authentic” skinhead reggae sound that they produced – I was expecting more of a Rancid/Transplants punk noise – but they totally skanked throughout.
The audience was in the region of 200-250, a good mixture of punks, Trojan skins, straights and the odd Rasta/crusty. One bought a round of Jägerbombs for the band, which went down suspiciously well, though the organist was super doubtful about what he was receiving (preferring a mix of vodka/lager instead).
The Aggrolites, playing their last gig before heading back to LA, made sure there was a real party atmosphere all night, and plenty of reference to the City-United Manchester derby, which finished before they came onstage.
Their performance ended with singer and lead guitarist Jesse Wagner crowd surfing during an absolutely brilliant rendition of The Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down during the encore.
I was totally impressed by The Aggrolites tonight and I can say with absolute confidence that EVERY person in the audience was dancing during their set. It was a brilliant gig which stands out as one of my best of 2019. Superb!