Recently I met up with the members of local Reggae giants Super-Massive at The Mad Frog in Corryville, where they play every Thursday. The band is wrapping up a year that’s included many successes and milestones, including the release of their self-titled debut CD in September and, just last month, winning their first Cincinnati Entertainment Award.
At a table near the front bar, I chatted with singer-guitarist Jeremy Lacinak, bassist Nick Blasky and percussionist Alonzo Leggette. Keyboardist Andrew Lenihan walked by our table once or twice to ask a question of his bandmates only to absorb their barbs and taunts like a barrage of snowballs or rotten fruit. Observing this good-natured torment through the bottom of an empty pint glass as I downed my first beer, I thought to myself, “I wonder if he’s The New Guy in the band?”
With a deep sigh emitting from behind the broad smile of experience, Lenihan takes this ancient hazing ritual all in stride. “These guys probably don’t want me in on this interview anyway,” he says, “’cause the last time I was quoted by a reporter the question was ridiculous and I was misquoted.”
De facto spokesman/frontman Lacinak is naturally laid back and well-suited to answer questions about the band, so I feel bad for not preparing any. Full disclosure: I’m no stranger to these guys. I’ve been out to see the band many times over the years and in the process have become well-acquainted with them. I recall seeing guitarist John Gentry Jr. with The Lemmings at Ripley’s some years ago, and many are familiar with Blasky’s work in Ray’s Music Exchange.
During his time with The Zionites, Lacinak learned the ropes of the music biz. Lacinak and Super-Massive are sitting in the fabled catbird’s seat on a local level and have no plans at this time for widespread touring.
Because the band is working more than enough paying gigs in the area (including some regional shows) to make this a full-time job, they think a massive touring schedule would be a step back. That said, Lacinak acknowledges the CD as a development that could possibly garner some label attention and create touring opportunities.
The self-titled disc is a brilliant blend of Roots Reggae with catchy melodies and harmonious hooks. Standing at a safe distance from the glitz and glamour of the red carpet outside the Emery Theatre for the recent CEA ceremony, Alonzo confided to me, “We definitely wanted it to be radio-friendly.” (Within the hour the band would take the stage to accept the award for Best World Music/Reggae artist.)
The CD runs the gamut from rasta love songs (“Shine”) to minor key lamentations on the state of the world (“Bad Men,” “Dem Wrong”) and a slinky Soul instrumental that’s equal parts Memphis and Kingston (“Unk”). Lacinak’s vocals embody a keen grasp of Jamaican phrasing and deep soul throughout.
“Dog Eat Dog” vacillates between the classic “one drop” Reggae groove and a heavy space vamp reminiscent of ’70s Prog. It’s here where the band’s sick Jazz chops and Zappa-esque humor begin to assert themselves as equal parts in the stew. It’s not blatant, but it sets the music apart from other Reggae.
Drummer Tim Hensley is largely absent from the wobbly table where the band graciously ignores my lack of professional interview techniques. He does take a moment to indulge in an all-too-brief discussion about the latest releases from the Frank Zappa archives.
Almost invisible from the pre-gig activities, his presence is literally felt by everyone in the club from the minute the band takes the stage. Precise in tempo, long on groove and an absolute wizard of hypnotic polyrhythms, Hensley speaks volumes with his drum work. Opening with a cover of Bob Marley’s “Bend Down Low,” Super-Massive snakes seamlessly into a jam on Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”
Moments before going on, the band is lamenting tonight’s small turn-out. But before the end of the first set, the place is swelling with dancers, college kids and cute girls chirping and chattering. Blasky does a double take and laughs as the young ladies yell out a spontaneous call-and-response sing-a-long during the band’s original tune “Mankind.”
Gentry’s dreads are piled high so as not to get entangled in his guitar strings. And before the end of “Mankind” he improvises a rabid guitar solo that sounds like it was kicked off a Donald Fagen record for beating up the other guitar solos and taking their lunch money.
It’s still early in their first set, but already Super-Massive’s jams are leaping and surging unpredictably while Hensley and Blasky are holding down a solid rock-steady Reggae feel.
Super-Massive have hypnotized me with their groovy sway on many previous occasions. But on this night I realize I’ve never heard a Reggae band that can conjure jams this interesting or a jam band that can pull off Reggae grooves this smoothly and effortlessly.
SUPER-MASSIVE (myspace.com/thesupermassive6) plays every Wednesday at Stanley’s Pub (details here) and every Thursday at The Mad Frog (details here).