John Brown’s Body: Pour House, Charleston, SC 2/13/10

Founded in 1995 in Ithaca, a hippie-friendly, live-music–obsessed outpost in upstate New York, John Brown’s Body has always enjoyed the following of dedicated fans. After moving their operation to Boston and cycling through numerous line-up changes, the band has settled in and cultivated a substantial national audience.

Successful tours with major acts—Dave Matthews Band, Jurassic 5 and more—have only expanded their fan base, and Charleston, SC, had plenty of love for the band on the Saturday night before Valentine’s Day. The Pour House pulsed through the night, courtesy not just of JBB, but also the well-matched opener, aggressive roots reggae/dub purveyors Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad.

JBB quickly built on Panda’s performance, opening with a burning duo of “Bread” and “33 RPM,” before delving into their latest album, Amplify, with the heartfelt “Speak of the Devil,” a track that bears more than a passing resemblance to Matisyahu’s earnest sound. The band obviously brought plenty of love down South, and plenty was returned from the packed house—seemingly all of whom knew every song they had to offer, including the upbeat closing tandem from Amplify, “Zion Triad” and “Be At Peace.”

JBB’s albums, though solid, don’t quite capture the textures of their sound or the animated personalities of each member, both of which are evident in the live setting. Many of the songs spiraled deep into heavy dub space, recalling Lee Scratch Perry and, in a few moments, even the dark edges of drum-and-bass territory. JBB’s foundations may rest on Marley, Tosh and other Jamaican pioneers, but the band’s influence range much wider, across reggae, rock, dub, ska, funk and many of the near-countless subgenres lumped under “electronic music.”

Even though they effectively weaved a few catch-your-breath tunes into the mix—including the crowd request, “Ambrosia”—JBB never let the peaks die completely, demonstrating an impressive commitment to the groove, the message and their craft. Definitely check them out in April, when they’ll be touring through the Midwest and on the West coast, sharing the bill with the equally invigorating Toubab Krewe.

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