Toots and the Maytals - Thalia Hall, Chicago - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Toots and the Maytals - Thalia Hall, Chicago

by Texacaliago Rating: Release Date:
Toots and the Maytals - Thalia Hall, Chicago
Toots and the Maytals - Thalia Hall, Chicago

Toots and the Maytals have been around a long time. As one the first purveyors of reggae/ska music (their 1968 tune “Do the Reggay” was actually the first song to use the word itself), their influence and lasting legacy on music really can’t be overstated.

Considering that, it’s rather astounding that they are not more of a household name outside of critical circles. Then again, reggae has always been somewhat of a niche genre of music (that’s certainly produced a lot of derivative mediocrity over the years). So that probably has a lot to do with it, but nonetheless, Toots and the Maytals produced some of the best music the genre has to offer back in their heyday, and for all intents and purposes, practically invented the genre in and of itself.

Not many bands still around today can claim to be the forefathers of an entire genre of music, so it was an honor to take in their set before a sold-out Thalia Hall in Chicago Wednesday night. It had been a solid 6 years since I had last caught them in person, so part of me was curious to see if they could still deliver the goods live (especially considering Toots himself is a ripe 75 years of age).

The funny thing about seeing Toots & The Maytals live is, well, just how surprisingly energetic and infectious their show actually is. If you hear them on record, and factor in their age, it would be reasonable to surmise that they would put on an adequate, generally low-key performance, or at least that was always my expectation before seeing them.

And if I’m being honest, that’s kind of how most all Toots shows deceptively start out. The band usually picks a somewhat subdued number as an opener to wet everyone’s proverbial appetite, as Toots himself comes out in his trademarked red and black outfit that looks straight out of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video, and proceeds to unassumingly stagger around and dutifully belt out his vocals.

But then, around the 2nd or 3rd song, things start to get a bit more interesting when the ska kicks in and things get downright jaunty and significantly more jovial in nature. They’ll take a generally down-tempo song like “Monkey Man” or “Sweet and Dandy”, and about half-way through, up the tempo significantly with a jumpy rhythm that definitely gets the crowd moving (not to mention grinning ear-to-ear).  

And on the subject of humor, Toot’s playfully coy stage presence is an essential part of what makes their live experience so unique and enjoyable.  For example, he’ll occasionally bust some ridiculously goofy dance moves mid-song for everyone’s amusement, which only adds to the affably warm nature of his presence. Call-and-response singing is another trademark of every Toots show, something this reviewer is generally not a fan of, but at a Toots show, it’s almost impossible not to play along. It’s all done with a somewhat sly sense of humor from the man himself, as during the performance of “54-46 Was My Number”, Toots deviated from the standard chorus of “give it to me, 3 times” and requested the audience “give it to me, one hundred times”. We could only muster about 10 or so “hey heys!” before Toots led us into a unified clap, which transitioned nicely into a ridiculously fun and jaunty outro jam from the band.

Overall, if there’s one predominate feeling I always come away with after a Toots show, it’s probably happiness. There are plenty of bands out there that can put on an incredible live performance, but very few of them that leave you walking out the door with a big smile on your face with a feeling of pervasive warmth and joy to boot. Maybe that’s more a reflection of the type of shows I happen to frequent, so perhaps Toots is a bit of an outlier in that regard, but whatever the case, there’s something uniquely enjoyable and naturally fun-loving about the live Toots & The Maytals experience.

If you haven’t got a chance to see them live, do yourself a favor and witness a living legend up there doing what he loves and doing it enthusiastically and joyously at the age of 75. You won’t be disappointed, as any fan in attendance Wednesday at Thalia Hall would most certainly attest to.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars