From the cross-cultural to the cosmic, the Mickey Hart Band concert with the African Showboyz was ‘out there’ in the best of ways.
From the minute the African Showboyz claimed Red Deer’s Memorial Centre stage on Thursday night, the audience of about 300 knew they were about to explore some exciting — maybe even uncharted — musical territory.
The Showboyz’s energized, rhythmic songs from West Africa stirred up the eclectic crowd, which included aging ’60s types (including a few tie-dye sporting Deadheads), as well as bearded young hipsters in crocheted head gear.
The only instruments the four singing Sabbah brothers played were a couple of handmade drums, a two-string guitar and a round shaker, like a large maraca without a handle.
Yet the four acoustic musicians from Ghana created a wall of soul-expanding emotional sound that could send shivers down your back — especially when they combined their hypnotic African beats with Bob Marley’s plaintive and powerful Redemption Song lyrics.
“How did you feel it, brothers and sisters?” asked the group’s founder Napoleon Sabbah, to wild cheers from listeners.
The audience, warmed up by the African Showboyz, cooled down again during the long wait for the Mickey Hart Band to take the stage (one guy was desperately shouting for dancing girls as an alternative to the canned music we’d been listening to for some 50 minutes).
Lucky for fans — and also presumably for Hart — the former Grateful Dead drummer delivered a heck of a show when he finally took the stage with seven other musicians and vocalists.
The concert sponsored by the Central Music Festival went for an hour-long first set, then, after a half-hour intermission, another set that was still running when I had to bail at 11:15 p.m.
By that time, people were dancing in the aisles, and the few disappointed Deadheads who had skipped out when it became apparent that Hart was not doing a Grateful Dead tribute show were missing out on some truly kaleidoscopic music.
A few of the songs were a throw to Hart’s former legendary band — including Ramble on Rose and Shakedown Street, which went over big with the baby boomer crowd.
But most of the tunes delivered by the Mickey Hart Band were decades younger than the Grateful Dead. In fact, many were off the recent Mysterium Tremendum album that was created by taking light, radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation given off by the sun, planets, stars and galaxies and using computers to transform them into soundwaves.
The band’s spectral songs sound as if a window had been opened on the infinite. Starlight, Starbright, Endless Skies and Let There Be Light featured haunting, ethereal vocals by spectacular singer Crystal Monee Hall, supported by the soulful Joe Bagale, who is also the band’s keyboardist.
Bagale and the other musicians — including Hart, Greg Schutte and Sikiru Adepoju on elaborate percussion, Gawain Mathews on guitar, Dave Schools on bass and Jonah Sharp on synthesizer — created eerie spectral soundscapes.
Amid the melodic bleeps were some garbled, sing-song-y fragments of conversation — the kind of sound snippets that might be caught by a transmitter in the cosmos light years after first being broadcast on Earth.
At one point, Hart dragged a violin bow across a synthesizer, adding a high-pitched space moan to the aural landscape. It was a very cool touch and the audience was transfixed.
The Mickey Hart Band switched up the mood by performing Code War (a song Hart wrote with Sammy Hagar), Fire on the Mountain, the beautiful Jersey Shore (written for a Superstorm Sandy benefit), and the infectious Iko, Iko with the African Showboyz.
Like Robert Plant, a member of another legendary 1960s-’70s group who refuses to be pinned down by Led Zeppelin fans, Hart clearly prefers exploring new musical terrain, instead of rehashing the old.
After his band’s fascinating space-age concert in Red Deer, it could even be argued that Hart is boldly venturing where no musician has gone before.