Lee ‘Scratch’ PerryCeremony Concerts @ Arts Club 13/3/18
There’s a fine line between creativity and absurdity. LEE ‘SCRATCH’ PERRY, now in the 82nd year of his stay on planet Earth and still no more in touch with it than a piece of cosmic debris, hasn’t so much tread on either side. Rather, he’s allowed the rhythmic waves of the West Indies to rub away any dividing line. In doing so he’s acquired a reputation as one of the most innovative minds ever to sit at the studio controls. An ambitious practice, and it’s fair to say the results of his musical philosophy are somewhat inconsistent. Nonetheless, his music, to this day, continues to blend impassioned freedom with unapologetic escapism. Look past the absurdity and the quality is still there. It might take a little longer to realise than before, now that the halcyon days of his studio The Black Ark are running their roots ever deeper into history. Just as it takes a little longer than it used to for the red-bearded, beanie baby-clutching dub deity to shuffle his way on stage on this particular evening in Liverpool.
“We ain’t The Upsetters, but think of us as The Uplifters,” Perry’s guitarist conveys, earnestly, in a nod to his frontman’s former musical associates. As the band warm up the room in preparation, there’s a sense of wonderment glazed across the faces of those absorbing the first flutter of bass. There’s no knowing what to expect from ‘Scratch’. It’s refreshing. Live music can often become a regimented affair; the awkward tracks from the new album; the classic opener and closer.
In contrast, with over 60 years’ worth of material to choose from, it’s difficult to determine which direction Perry will go in on his musical quest. When he does emerge, it seems rather fitting that he chooses not to perform any of his songs at all – at least not as we know them. Sure, the music is familiar, but the lyrics are amended, chopped, impromptu. Essentially, he’s letting the music talk for him. He’s there simply to orchestrate the mood. The captain, the coxswain, driving the room on over lapping tides of rhythm. Here’s where the pendulum swings towards creativity, although his mutterings between songs spiral back towards the absurd.
Somewhere in amongst ramblings on love, peace and God, skewed renditions of Zion Blood, Exodus and Disco Devil are prised from the dub treasure chest, dusted off and performed with the zeal of an 80-something-year-old with a taste for spacey cigarettes.
It proves to be a night of requests. Not Perry taking those from the audience but dishing them out himself. Like an extra-terrestrial fitness trainer, he orders those reflecting in his mirror adorned headgear to sway to the left, then to the right, stretch, with a hop here and jump there. It’s a pleasant workout. With The Uplifters hitting their stride, Perry feels it’s time to do some uplifting of his own – not that those in the crowd need much help.
Regardless, after sharing a wealth of abstract wisdom, he emerges with smoke billowing from his soul to offer (literal) enlightenment to those in reaching distance. Funnily enough, the lighting and passing of the spliff gets the loudest cheer of the evening. A sign, perhaps, that capturing a glimpse of this enigma is more important than hearing an ageing rendition from his back catalogue. Or maybe because it was the only part the show that didn’t need explaining; no translation needed, unlike the near undecipherable words spilling from Perry’s mouth as the band held the groove of a beating heart. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry isn’t one for conformity, after all. His stop in Liverpool serves as a gentle reminder.