It’s 7:30pm and the palm trees along Beach Road are practically bent double. It’s half an hour until the gates open for New Zealand legends Fat Freddy’s Drop and I’m bundled into a car, eyeing the weather warily. I need not have worried. For once, Cape Town has braved the weather in droves and by the time I arrive, swept through the gates by a particularly strong gust, there are more than enough attendees to form a decent buffer. Complimentary Red Bull in hand we edge into the crowds’ depths.
Mix n Blend has the masses grooving to a collection of reggae hits. To their right Crosby Bolani, deadlocked and lanky, is spitting Caribbean truths. I had had my concerns when the supporting line-up announcements consisted only of DJs, but these are swiftly quashed. We’ve wormed our way deep enough into the crowd for comfort and settle down as their set draws to a close. The stage is nestled in a slight dip in the park and ringed by trees. There are swings dangling from the trees above the stage and a couple of energetic early-comers are battling the wind on them.
A glance around the crowd reveals just how diverse Fat Freddy’s Drop’s fans are. The bluesy-reggae outfit has been hitting international stages for 17 years now and consequently middle ages retired-rockers rub shoulders with urban hippies, while a collection of urbanites are trading cigarettes and chocolate. An electric roar goes up as the band’s personal zealous MC Slave announces their arrival and a collective ripple spreads from the stage as the seven-piece make their appearance one by one – keyboardist Dobie Blaze is dressed in a camo onesie. The familiar opening bars of ‘Midnight Marauders’ spill from their instruments and beside me a die-hard fan is already losing it.
“You think this is windy? We’re from Wellington!” And we breathe a collective sigh of relief that Cape Town is not doing us an embarrassment.
There follows one of the most riveting two hour sets I have witnessed. The group effortlessly bounce off one another. With no definitive front man, the role rotates among them. From Joe Dukie’s soulful, crooning vocals, to MC Slave’s intermittent appearances, DJ Fitchie’s grooving beats and trombonist Joe Lindsay’s effortlessly fab dance moves, attention shifts methodically between them. Their energy is electric.
An hour into their set and they’re showing no signs of slowing down – the crowd is still losing it. To my right a profusely sweating man, possibly three tabs of acid in, has cleared a wide berth around him with a collection of tribal dance moves. I’m sure whether to ask security to extract him or leave him be – I settle on the latter and push deeper into the crowd. Lindsay’s energy has grown ever more vigorous and he has traded his trombone for a tuba. He has divested himself of his suit jacket. I blink and he’s returned with his trombone and dressed in nothing but white briefs and a vest with a gold H emblazoned across the chest – a reference to his stage moniker, Hopepa. A gold cape is spilling from his shoulders and he has rugby socks up to his calves. Two songs later and he’s sitting on a speaker, a harmonica at his lips. I’m not sure what to make of it but I have never been more entertained.
It’s midnight and the set is drawing to a close. With a rolling fanfare MC Slave announces their departure but Cape Town is having none of it. Five minutes later and they are back for an encore. Rolling bursts of brass vibrate through the ground as ‘Ernie’, with a sense of delicious finality, ties the apt knot on one of the best live performances I have seen grace a South African stage.
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