New York City is known as a melting pot, and on this balmy Tuesday night (Aug. 25) at Times Square's B.B. King Blues Club, the pot was simmering as an anxious crowd awaited reggae sensation Tarrus Riley. Armed with all the right ingredients from his harmonious brand of love-inspired roots reggae, "Jamaica's shining superstar" wasted no time making an ethnic gumbo of Caribbean, European, and American sounds and performing old favorites and new songs from "Contagious," his latest album released Aug. 4.
"Tonight is not about segregation or no form of discrimination," Riley announced as he graced the stage to a mesmerizing one-drop riddim. "It's about bringing people together." Collectively, the multi-cultured audience stood as the second-generation singer (his father is reggae veteran Jimmy Riley), delivered his rousing message of unity over the course of an hour-long set.
Donned in his customary scholarly attire -- a crisp shirt and tie -- Riley launched into the divine "Lion Paw" from his acclaimed 2006 album, "Parables." His rich alto instantly moved the crowd, causing most to join in as he performed the lovesick anthem "Love's Contagious," which borrows its spellbinding beat from Bob Marley's "Coming In From The Cold." "Something ah go round," indeed.
The unified chorus grew as Riley ripped into a set of "lovers rock" (the name attributed to the style known as romantic reggae) tunes that climaxed with a melodic rockers cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature." After a few opening lines the song drew a "pull-up," the dancehall custom of starting a record again from the top to further please a thrilled crowd. Riley interrupted the love session to chant down praise on Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt. With a Jamaican flag in hand, he rallied the crowd with the emphatic call and response of, "Lightning Bolt."
Riley then switched back to the lovers rock theme that has so endeared him with fans, many of whom view him as the heir to the style's king, Beres Hammond. The crowd favorite "Something Strong," which uses the beat from Hammond's "Groovy Little Thing," supplied the backdrop as Riley performed dancehall classics "Sorry" and "Nothing Can Divide Us." R&B-tinged and horn-driven favorites like "Soul Mate" and "She's Royal" then segued into a cover of John Legend's "Stay With You," followed by an impromptu rendition of Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You."
The Black Soil band provided bongos, bass, keys, and drums, while legendary saxophonist Dean Fraser served as a one-man horn section. After taking on Fraser and Jamaica's legendary melodica player Monty Alexander in a crowd-pleasing sound clash, Riley left the stage for a short break. He would return with singer/songwriter Duane Stephenson and powerful backup singer Sherita Lewis for a 20-minute encore of spiritually motivating cuts.
On Riley's command, all hands went in the air for a tender salute to the motherland, "Africa Awaits," and they remained there as "Superman" sent down a superb serenade for all the Lois Lanes in the house. For the night's final show of unity, Riley joined forces with Lewis and Stephenson for the moving "Let Peace Reign." And just as it had sung along throughout the night, the crowd rose in unison once more to applaud Riley's harmonious performance.
Here is Tarrus Riley's setlist:
"Want It, Want It"
"Start A New"â€¨"Human Nature"
"Stay With You"
"Good Girl Gone Bad"
"Let Peace Reign"