Peter Tosh was the consummate Wailer in this critic’s humble opinion. He was the only one who fully realized that he could use reggae’s inherent pop sensibility and turn it into an anthem for the struggling and oppressed. Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley both missed their opportunity as artists to meld politics and music as fully as Tosh; Bunny was muttering in the dark (a la Syd Barrett) and Marley was so fully commercialized (not necessarily badly commercialized) that it was hard for him to address the scope of political issues that Peter Tosh could (a la Paul McCartney). Peter Tosh straddled the line between indie and pop, accepted in both worlds and respected as a true artist and a true dissident. His live concerts show him at both his best and his most comfortable.
Live and Dangerous: Boston 1976 is, first and foremost, an amazing concert. When I first looked at the song list I was hesitant; I almost wanted to dismiss it as something for a major Tosh fan and not a new disciple. After all, there are none of the “hits” that Tosh is known for. Even “Legalize It”, most likely Tosh’s best known song, is missing from this concert. So I popped the CD in with a little bit of hesitation expecting Tosh to push me away with his radical politics. I was absolutely wrong. This live show is amazing, nothing short of a seminal performance by a seminal performer and artist.
Tosh pushes the boundaries of mainstream reggae by infusing his laid-back grooves with a political punch that is impossible to resist. He is able to push the message of his songs, without giving up any of the beautiful and optimistic sounds of reggae music. It is a little disconcerting listening to happy upbeat music with lyrics of rage and political anger, because we are so used to only hearing songs of protest accompanied by angry, dark music. This is like hearing the Beatles play “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” behind the lyrics of Rage Against the Machine. Disconcerting, but not displeasing, because you are soon swept up in Tosh’s world of optimistic rebellion.
I enjoyed this album thoroughly because the energy captured on this live recording seemed to leap out and grab me. Tosh is at his best on tracks like “400 Years” and “Babylon Queendom”. His musical style and simple rhythms shine on these two tracks and answer all the artists who denigrate simplicity in music. Complexity may be interesting, but Tosh’s simple percussion-driven music is the perfect backdrop to his complex lyrical opinions. His guitar is biting, the bass is thumping and the percussion drives the rest of the music. In essence, Tosh perfected the style of reggae and, instead of pushing the boundaries of sound, he pushes the boundaries of our minds with his sharp wit and incisive political commentary.
This live album is for everyone, Tosh disciples and newcomers to reggae’s greatest songwriter. Maybe he never enjoyed the commercial success of his partner, Bob Marley, but Tosh crossed boundaries Marley never saw and enjoyed a loyalty that is the domain of the Grateful Dead and Phish. He is at his peak on this album, which is perfect for a late-night dissecting or driving down country roads at top-speed. Enjoy the music, listen to the lyrics, and expand your worldview just a little bit. Because that’s what this music is for. It’s supposed to be enjoyable and still intellectually stimulating, party music with a point.