Sound check at the Paradise

Getting everything ready for the big show.

It’s an almost daily ritual at music clubs everywhere: the afternoon sound check. The band rolls in — maybe in a shiny tour bus, maybe in a beat-up hatchback — plugs in its gear, and plays to an empty room, so the sound crew can get the levels right for the big show. Sort of like a dress rehearsal.

I knew the practice well in a previous life, when I played in a band myself. But I wanted to see what a good, loud sound check sounded like these days, especially from the streets. So I hit the Paradise Rock Club on Commonwealth Avenue, one of the city’s preeminent music venues, on a recent Friday, when members of the legendary English reggae band Steel Pulse were warming up. The band began with stray keyboard vamps and guitar riffs (plus a little piercing feedback). Dissonant noodling soon gave way to full-blown tunes, with pitch-perfect harmonies, thumping bass lines, and pulsating rhythms filling the vacant hall. “Life, life without music / I can’t go,” lead singer David Hinds belted into the void. The songs spilled out onto Comm. Ave. and into a back alley, a free mini-concert for anyone nearby.

It turns out Steel Pulse, which sold out the show, has a Boston mystery it’s been trying to solve. The band played one of its first US concerts at the Bradford Ballroom (now Royale) on October 25, 1980. A fan, apparently believing Hinds was in danger, hopped onstage during a theatrical rendition of the group’s political anthem “Ku Klux Klan.” If you’re out there, stage jumper, Steel Pulse needs you for a documentary.


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