Words: Miljan Milekić
It was -18º C on a Saturday night in Saskatoon, pretty much a far cry from every other time I saw Dub FX perform. Cold Canadian winter replaced the hot Serbian summer, tucked in stage at the Capital Music Club replaced the massive Main Stage of the Exit Festival, while 100-200 hardcore fans stepped in the place of 20 000 festivalgoers or a couple of thousands of random passers-by at the street performance in my hometown on Novi Sad. Some will say that less is sometimes more, but – what would actually be less in this case?
Yes, at this show, Dub FX did not have a production of the Main Stage of a major festival, nor thousands of people in front of him, but he did have two new albums under his belt – 2020’s ‘Roots’ and ‘Branches.’ Instead of tight festival schedules, and the pressure of clocks and time slots, he was the one calling the shots, delivering a 2-hour set under his own rules. So once again- what would actually be less in this case?
From the moment he stepped on the stage, Dub FX took control of it, and kicking off with a banger like ‘Fire Every Day’ early in his set, surely help. With Mr. Woodnote and his sax taking their place on the stage, the party could start. And the party it was! During his performance, Dub FX delivered an elaborate setlist, touching on every phase of his career, combining new songs with older classics, often improvising on the stage, and giving his partner in crime a fair share of time under the spotlight. The crowd in front of the stage recognized the energy and commitment coming from the stage and responded in the same manner. Not so much with singalongs, though, but rather in movement, creating a connection on a non-verbal level.
Dub FX, on the other hand, crushed the artist-crowd barrier with ease, by coming down from the stage and singing from the crowd, chatting with fans between the songs, and or improvising an impromptu performance of ‘Happy Birthday Song’ for someone in the front row. Song after song, the connection with the crowd was stronger, and his eclectic combination of dub, reggae, hip hop, and drum and bass was more than enough to keep everyone going. Songs like ‘Run,’ ‘Fake Paradise,’ ‘Made,’ or ‘So Are You,’ although all from different states in his career, and stylistically diverse, all still hit hard, and show the timeless nature of the Dub FX‘s music. And yes, his legendary breakthrough track, ‘Love Someone,’ in all its shapes and forms still sounds fresh and important like it did being performed in the streets all around the world back in 2008. And his messages of love, peace, and positivity are as relevant as they always were.
However, the night wasn’t a one-man show, although almost every act of the night could loosely fall into the category. On every date on this Canadian tour, Dub FX is supported by Montreal singer-songwriter Frase. Kicking things off with a stripped-down cover of Nirvana‘s ‘Come As You Are,’ he quickly drew people to the stage, while he continued to float through his set. Combining alt-pop with alternative rock, with elements of jazz, and hip hop, with his looper and electric guitar, Frase is one of the artists with lots to offer. Melodic, and dreamy, yet energetic at times, his music fitted perfectly with the headliners, with whom he shared the stage. Not only he joined Dub FX and Mr. Woodnote on the stage a bit later in the evening, but he also had the saxophonist join him for the massive, 10-minute-long rendition of his biggest track ‘Big Smoke.’
The local support on this show deserves a shout-out as well, especially the hip hop duo Harvey Dent, who opened the show. Playing to a handful of people in the crowd is never easy, but they made sure to deliver, and do their part right, with energy and dedication. After a solid set, they left the stage to Snakeboots and Terry D, who delivered their techno and house sets, which, to me at least, was a bit strange combination for the slots they got.
And as for Dub FX? He still has five more dates on this tour, with Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax still to go. I am sure every one of the upcoming shows will be a blast, as it brings a dash of warm air from the Caribbean-influenced music the Aussie brings to the stage. Which gets me to one final thought – I’ve seen him with the band, and I’ve seen him perform alone. I’ve seen him perform in the streets, in the club, and on the Main stage of a major festival. So, what is next? I’d love to see him play somewhere on the beach during the sunset. Or at the skatepark.