In full disclosure, I purchased Playtime by David Hillyard & the Rocksteady 7 on its release day about 15 years ago, give or take six months. And somehow for the next fifteen years, despite never living more than a public transportation trip from New Jersey, I always managed to avoid going to one of their shows. Most of my excuses fall into either I was unaware they were playing or Brooklyn is about as friendly a place to go by public transportation as a wolverine's den, especially if you need to stay late. Last weekend, they played in Brooklyn, which I convinced myself to skip under the modified version of public transportation to Brooklyn, which was driving to Brooklyn and having nowhere to park the car on the snow covered streets when I get there. Really, just a life of excuses.
So, on short notice, the Crazy Baldhead appearance in New York scheduled for last night was changed to a Dave Hillyard & the Rocksteady 7 appearance, in Manhattan, on a Sunday night starting at 10:30 PM. Dave also promised to play three songs from Dave Hillyard Presents California, which in my estimation is the best album to come out in at least five years and probably a good deal longer. In my youth, I would have used the time as an excuse not to go or something else. And even yesterday, I was close to not going, sitting in my apartment by myself, with nothing pressing lined up for today. It would be my third show of the weekend, which I never accomplished in my youth and going to NYC is always a pain. Excuses mounted in the corner, ready to leave me to watch the True Detective finale live. But rather than just sit around, I committed to going, remembering something important I learned recently, there is never a time I went to a show and regretted it.
I make the epic 10 minute walk to the train station and arrive in plenty of time to see the set at the Drom. The Drom was an especially posh bar for its location, located downstairs and downtown on Avenue A. A little early, I head inside and order what turns out to be a nine dollar Heineken Light, which in my estimation was a good deal for the location. Hoping for once in my life that a show would start on time, my dream was dashed as 10 PM rolled past. Instead, prior to going on the DJ was playing a great selection of Skatalites songs, which is oxymoronic, given how few, if any, Skatalites songs are anything other than great. Still, considering it is one of those bands I never found the right CDs to purchase, it was an enjoyable setup.
The show started and was a great experience I should have availed myself of earlier in my life. All of the songs were full of life. A tremendous and by tremendous, I mean best, version of I Can See Clearly Now was played by the band. They played Won't Back Down, Guilty and Green Dolphin Street from California live, with Guilty being my favorite song of the night, mostly because I might have been the only person in the crowd who knew every word in the song by heart due to listening to the song 150 or so times over the last nine months. The rest of the nearly hour and a half set was filled with tremendous ska, reggae and rocksteady sounds, lots of tremendous horn work and even a special appearance by Buford O'Sullivan, who I hadn't seen on stage since he was with the Toasters back in 2001 at the Wetlands.
The most impressive part of the show was of course, Dave Hillyard. With my 15th Slackers show set for Sunday, I've seen Dave play many times over the last sixteen years, though admittedly, I almost always end up on Vic Ruggiero's side of the stage, since he does most of the banter and interaction, along with Glen Pine. While Dave Hillyard is by far my favorite saxophone and really any brass instrument player, he doesn't need to be the personality tour de force for the Slackers in addition to being one of their musical tour de forces. But tonight, as the star of the show, he had tremendous stage presence as well, which I usually don't get to see. He comfortably told some great stories and anecdotes and genuinely seemed to be happy doing what he does best, which is play the saxophone. For the last song of the night, he let everyone else go first, then said something to the effect of needing to come up with his solo and put together an absolutely awesome and inspired two, two and a half minute solo. It was another show which reminded me why I love going to shows and why I would definitely go out of my way to see Dave Hillyard play with the Rocksteady 7 again.