Concert review: Rebelution, SOJA and Zion I at The Ritz (with pics + video)

Every live show has its own overall vibe — the musical-madness-at-a-weekend-long-festival vibe, the superstar-rockin'-huge-arenas vibe, the folk rock, hip-hop or flailing-armed hippie vibe, the time-to-get crazy-and-dance or the time-to-effing-rage-and-mosh-against life vibe, the somber and depressing Staind-pained type of vibe, the party time, let's-get-loose vibe ...

Rebelution’s vibe is mad love. Throughout their concert at The Ritz this past Thursday night, I got the impression that the band has mad love for their fans, for the other musicians on tour with them and for their reggae-loving, rock star lives. And they spread all that love around with their melodic vibrations.

Honestly, when I first arrived at The Ritz I could not help feeling a little old as the crowd at will-call was mostly 17 to early 20 year olds. However, once inside the packed venue, I quickly realized there was an assortment of people out to enjoy this music. Mixed in with the predictable dreadlocked college kids, I saw plenty of older dudes in Key West attire, thirty somethings on dates, sorority girls and groups of women out for a night on the town.

The first of two opening acts, Zion I, was on stage when my friend and I got there. We went to check out the last few songs from the innovative Cali duo and caught their harmonic blend of hip-hop beats and funky instrumentation before heading to the bar to grab Red Stripes, which were on special in honor of the reggae sound that was taking over The Ritz that night. (I just have to say; I’m not sure if the bartender was having a bad night or what, but this process took for-freaking-ever.)

By the time we made it back out to the crowd, Soldiers Of Jah Army, or just SOJA, had already begun performing their signature song “You Don’t Know Me.” As always, I bee-lined for the stage, swerving through dancing bodies until I found a hole big enough to jam out in.

The energy was there from start, as the wall to wall crowd, which I assume was mostly there to see Rebelution, showed their appreciation of SOJA’s rastified rock with bobbing heads, swaying arms and claps and howls of approval. The D.C. band went on to play “Here I Am,” “Rest of My Life,” and “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” which are all tracks off of their recently released album Born in Babylon. My one disappointment the entire night, was SOJA not playing the title track off the new album; however, the aforementioned songs are a clear representation of the romantic, but also realistic messages found in SOJA’s layered lyrics. There were several times when the seven-man, roots reggae outfit went off into instrumental musical mayhem, combining the electric guitar, percussion drums, bass, trumpet, and the saxophone to show off their D.C., go-go infused skills. This kept the crowd dancing the entire set and, after SOJA left the stage, there were lots of people in line to buy souvenirs of the SOJA sound.

When Rebelution finally took the stage, The Ritz was so packed (and covered with a familiar haze) my short-self was having trouble seeing. However, this was of no matter – it was awesome to watch all Rebelution’s faithful fans flood the stage and sing the lyrics of every song the California reggae rock band performed. I found this impressive because, even though the hard working band has reached great highs on iTunes and local Cali radio stations, they still are not quite mainstream, but in Tampa they can fill a venue with a sizable crowd capable of singing their mellow tunes word for word. Rebelution is proof that grassroots, independent and touring-driven music can build an authentic fan base and a legitimate place in the world of music.

Rebelution rocked out positive vibrations on The Ritz’s stage with fan favorites like “Green to Black,” “Feeling Alright” and “Safe and Sound” as well as many laid back melodies from their newest album, suitably titled, Bright Side of Life. “Lazy Afternoon” was probably my favorite song that was performed off the new album. It definitely had a Jack Johnson effect, as all the couples were suddenly intertwined and dancing in unison to the dreamy sounding song about lovers relaxing the day away. As a chic, this was oh so sweet to take in.

The one-love vibes reached a peak at the end of the show when a planned encore collaboration went down between all the acts. Each talented musician gave mad props to the others as the three groups mixed their musical styles in a jam session that lured in audience participation and created a memorable ending to an all around great show. I definitely caught the Rebelution contact high as my feet didn’t stop bouncing the entire night.

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