John Brown's Body delivers lively performance

By Austin Sorette
On April 18, 2013

Following in the tradition of the limitless opportunity that the Internet provides for bands and music fans alike, the Boston-based reggae band John Brown's Body has adapted fluidly to the kind of exposure that the World Wide Web has to offer.

Now JBB can forget about the "get in the van" DIY approach to touring that forced the band to hit the road when they first started in the mid-90s.

"We started in about '97, so we're just about at our 15-year mark," Tommy Benedetti, drummer and co-founder of John Brown's Body, said. "There wasn't the American reggae scene that there is today; it was all about word-of-mouth and touring.

"We would go to places like Tulsa [Oklahoma] and other cities that we don't want to go to anymore just to get a gig."

Regarding the existence of reggae in the mid-90s, bands like Sublime and 311 were just barely breaking into mainstream popularity and tasting the fruits of success. But during that time, JBB was still stuck in the American underground, making their recordings independently, setting up their own shows, supplying their own equipment and booking their own tours.

"We put out our first record on our own label called I-Town Records," Benedetti said. "At first, we didn't know that we were going to release it; we just recorded a bunch of songs just to have them. But the songs got good responses from radio stations in all parts of the country, so we decided to take them out on the road."

Since then, the band has been touring non-stop and bouncing around to different labels, ultimately ending up at Easy Star records in 2003. Serving as the house label for Easy Star All-Stars, JBB was a perfect fit both on and off the record button.

"I love and respect the music [Easy Star All-Stars] put out, and they're friends of ours," Benedetti said. "It's awesome to know that you can call up the president of your record label just to say, 'What's up?' and have a conversation."

As the band's progress helped them break through the almost-impenetrable ceiling of notoriety that covers the American underground, their music showed progress in a different way.

JBB's music has been labeled as "future roots" for its blending of traditional Jamaica-style roots with the ever-progressive electronica that has seeped into modern day music. But while the band has been experimental with the tasteful potential of electronic music, it is their nod to the music of Jah that has made JBB one of the most original bands around.

"With the future roots thing, it's a nod to the past; Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, basically the giants of our field," Benedetti said. "But it's our job not to do what's already been done.  We want to keep current.  We want to be true to ourselves and not follow any trends."

For fans of the band, not following any trends is just as important to them as it is to the band.  As they took the stage last Thursday in the Strafford Room of the MUB, you could see the array of die-hards moving and grooving at the front of the stage, belting out every single song in JBB's set, including some of the tracks off its new record, "Kings and Queens," which was released a handful of days after the show.

Even those with virgin ears to the band were staring wide-eyed at the stage, unable to fathom the energy coming out of the speakers and generating the lively dancing in the crowd. Some of the crowd members even interpreted the energy of the music by dancing with multi-colored LED hula-hoops. It was a mesmerizing feat that, no matter how experimental the dancers or the band got, both always seemed to keep in perfect time with each other.

JBB's touring future is a little more sporadic now than in the band's 90s days. Their string of East Coast spring dates to support their new record started with the UNH show, which was a venue reminiscent of their early local shows.

"We used to play at the Stone Church a lot," Benedetti said, "but that place has opened and closed so many times that we kind of had to stop playing there."

But while New Hampshire fans can still brag about having one of the most talented bands of the modern day right in their backyard, the important thing to know about John Brown's Body is that they know no boundaries. The music itself, and especially the accessibility of their music, is a call to any music fanatics who can appreciate the technical complexity and soulful grooviness of such a pragmatic band.

"JBB is for music lovers, not for scenesters," Benedetti said. "We put a lot of work and dedication to our craft and people respond to that. We've challenged ourselves and our fans sonically and they've stuck with us after all these years.

"Sometimes when you hear a horn, you can say 'Hey, that's John Coltrane.' That's what we're always trying to do; have someone listen to a song and know instantly that it's John Brown's Body."

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