Fresh from the muddied fields of Glastonbury, Fat Freddy’s Drop arrived in London on Wednesday, playing the first of two sold-out Astoria dates. Most of the city’s dub reggae-loving New Zealanders must have turned up to see their countrymen mix up reggae, soul, jazz and electro-dub in the way that only FFD do best.
Kicking off in fine form with their biggest hit Wandering Eye, the Astoria was transformed into a sea of bopping heads and knees as the horns came out and the bassline bounced along, with Joe Dukie providing the ever-soulful vocals and Fitchie on the beats. Things were looking set for a very good night indeed.
Unfortunately it didn’t quite go that way. After their raucous opening the band launched into a series of long and mainly slow jams unfamiliar to the crowd. They steered clear of any of the other tracks from their number one (well, in NZ anyway) and only album ‘Based On A True Story’ for the rest of the main set. There was good material in there though, and the audience persevered, with things being taken right down and then brought right back up again with Fat Freddy’s trademark double-time build-up. But nothing succeeded in bringing back the energy of the opening ten minutes.
Maybe it was all part of the plan – having come on at 9pm sharp, the Drop had two hours to play with so were in no rush to get through the hits meaning when they left the stage at half ten there was promise in the air. Kicking off the encore with one of the slowest tracks on the album, ‘Dark Days’ at least gave the crowd something they could sing along to…and paved the way for an explosive ‘Roady’. Then, taking things down a notch, FFD finished with a stunning performance of what is perhaps their finest achievement – ‘Midnight Marauders’.
Fat Freddy’s Drop aren’t meant to be jump-up reggae (is there such a thing?) but the vibe in the crowd before the show said otherwise – so it’s a shame they didn’t indulge the audience a bit more with a few more of the great tracks on ‘Based On A True Story’.
But then again maybe they’ve pulled a master-stroke. Is it coincidence that they played the ultimate stoner's set just days before the smoking ban kicks in? Never again indoors in the UK will they have audiences ‘relaxed’ enough for long slow reggae jams. That’ll be something to tell the kids about. Or not.
Words by Tom Green