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Midnite in the Garden of Good

Prophetic is a word usually attributed to political figures like Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. At times it gets tacked to scary cult figures like Jim Jones, but only rarely is it used accurately to describe a musician. While publicists would have you believe that every hipster with a British haircut is the voice of a new generation, prophetic singers are few and far between: Curtis Mayfield, Fela Kuti and Robert Johnson come to mind, but unfortunately none of them are still working.

To be truly prophetic, both content and context have to be firmly in the pocket. Bono has the charisma, but arena rock, ticket tariffs and 90-minute, encore-heavy sets don't really foster a mood ripe for a religious experience. But that mood was in place at the Vets Hall last Saturday. The room was packed solid with souls swaying in motion to the steady and heavy drone of one of the finest roots reggae outfits working today.

MIDNITE, who originally formed in St. Croix in 1989, gave Santa Cruz more than three hours of turgid and tight reggae to feast upon. Breaks between songs were nonexistent. Only seconds of silence were permitted. RON BENJAMIN, the band's musical director, kept a constant pace throughout the set at center stage right, juggling both Hammond tones and bright electric keyboard bubbles while the rhythm section of bassist JOE STRAWS, guitarist TRIPPA and drummer DION HOPKINS provided revival-style tightness behind him. This band works as a true unit. Solos were brief and the overall sound was much more important than any individualized voice within the ensemble. Besides, all the sweet tones served a single purpose, to anchor the lyrics. The heart of the group, singer VAUGHN BENJAMIN, stalked the stage to the left of Ron, vocalizing over the top of the trance-inducing songs, telling tales of liberation, freedom and the power of Jah Rastafari. In a culture whose first order of appreciation for reggae is as a vehicle for cannabis consumption, Midnite is taking the original path of the music: social liberation. Through their "chant and call" styles of singing, their concerts become more of a religious experience than a passive listening event, a sweaty, swaying and orgiastic expression of freedom in the face of overwhelming social odds.

In this pessimistic world, it is unlikely that the brutal forces of colonialization, exploitation and globalization will be reversed, but it is reassuring to know that, if only for a few hours, you can feel that they just might forced aside through the power of collective soul.

Freaky Nectar

There is a house on Continental Street which used to go by the name of La Casa De Woodchuck. Back in the day is was a quintessential student home. Rusting bicycles crammed the side yard, the roof was patched thickly with tar, students were bunking in the wet bar and none of the windows provided even a hint of wet weather protection. The yard was planted with specimens from the Igneous phylum. In short, it was a flophouse.

But in this humble home, in its humblest room, was a converted storage space where DJ LORIN (whose birth certificate reads Lorin Ashton) first started his career, producing remixes for acts like Michael Franti, Zap Mama and Perry Farrell. While the rest of Santa Cruz spent the late '90s trying to get their alt rock project off the ground, Lorin was anchoring the decks at the Health and Harmony Festival, Freek Things in New York and the Independent in San Francisco. In the time since he has left town, he's established a solid reputation as both a producer and a live DJ, playing over 100 gigs a year mashing up breakbeat, old school hip-hop, electronic clicks and clacks and snippets of liberal spoken word. After all, nothing says dance! like Noam Chomsky over a dancehall track.

This self-described purveyor of "vegan music" is coming back to town for a single night this coming Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Vets Hall for the Freaker'z Ball. His set will anchor the annual event whose crazed costume-based energy is a welcome respite from all the annoying reality which has a tendency to stack up pretty thick when Daylight Savings Time cashes in for the year.

Peter Koht

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From the October 26-November 2, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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