Music » Critics' Picks

Steel Pulse

Saturday, July 24; Gateway Arch Stage, St. Louis Riverfront


Steel Pulse was indeed one of the finest reggae groups of the '70s, but the members' experience as Jamaican immigrants in Britain flavored their music with ingredients not widely found back home in JA. Their personal exposure to white racism produced songs like the legendary "Ku Klux Klan"; the white hoods they wore while playing the song reflected the dark humor and political theater of the punks. Steel Pulse was a mainstay of the punk-Rasta unity shows of the time, sharing the stage with bands like the Stranglers and Generation X. Singer David Hinds sported a tower of dreadlocks that outdid any Exploited mohawk for sheer outlandishness, and Basil Gabbidon's rock-inflected guitar leads showed he'd heard a few Rolling Stones records.

For all that, the band was one of the very few diaspora acts to find an audience in Jamaica itself. Steel Pulse's wondrous reggae throb is perfectly described by the band's name: a living heartbeat as steady as steel. The early albums (especially 1978's Handsworth Revolution) remain the band's most essential, but Steel Pulse acquits itself well on the solid new album African Holocaust, its first release in five years. No political punches are pulled, from the punkish cover collage of fallen black heroes to the sprightly remake of Bob Dylan's "George Jackson." Musically, Steel Pulse resists the temptation to pile on loads of corny synths, keeping things credibly rootsy a quarter-century into its career. One of reggae's greatest bands, still rocking steady, playing for free on the riverfront -- seriously, don't miss this one.