By Jacqueline Howell. Photos by Dave MacIntyre
Friday, August 10th saw the return of the one and only Toots and the Maytals to Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall. The man who pioneered contemporary Jamaican music (greatly influencing and heavily “borrowed” by 1970s & 1980s British SKA music) and who coined the term “reggay” itself, is now 75 years young and still has much to teach us and say to the world.
Toots in performance has an incomparable personal style that is both warm and cool. He knows who he is, what his place is in history, but he’s still pleased and happy to receive the love from the audience. The often taciturn and hard-to-please Toronto crowd tonight is all his: sticking ’em up until told to put ’em down, giving it to him one, two, even thirteen times, and even becoming a crowd capable of roaring: not something one ever expects in a room like this. But this is Toots. This is legend and legacy, ease, chill and heart.
Joined by a super tight-ensemble that gives their leader fist bumps on request without missing a beat, the show is one full of layers and colours, extended riffs and a feeling of spontaneity. There’s an intimacy tonight that has a different rhythm than the band’s last visit less than two years ago (both shows being memorable in different ways) the earlier show seeming to be designed to be a crowd pleaser, and this one a little more laid back and trusting that we are not just a crowd, but friends who will go with the flow. Having seen Toots and the Maytals for the first time almost a decade ago, we thought then how lucky we were to see a legend one time. We’re now on four and still eagerly counting. This is a miracle in today’s musical world, with shows selling out worldwide, and a singular artist who says he never goes home making us feel like we got to sit in on a family jam instead of seeing another gig in a familiar venue.
Apparently the show goes over, but we don’t care. Toots is not leaving without a ten or fifteen minute single-song encore of classic “54-46 Was My Number”. This caps off a night where even a master & pioneer (who even made the John Denver classic “Country Roads” his very own) has time to do their 1973 cover of the much covered classic “Louie Louie”.) We also heard the great new song “Marley”, about Toots’ friend and Reggae legend Bob Marley.
The Danforth Music Hall sits amid a scene in one of Canada’s finest, most friendly neighbourhoods. It is one that was shot up two weeks ago, one where young, innocent people died, are still recovering in hospital, and many continue to work and carry on in a community that is dealing with deep shock and trauma. This community has rallied and shown what it’s made of. It has doubled down, as you do in tough times, to assert that it is one of family ties, not just coincidental neighbours or even friends. And Toots and the Maytals casts a golden glow over a place at a time when this music’s restorative powers, defiance of oppression, and quiet strength are most needed.