As the lights hit the stage of the Hearst Greek Theatre, the classic rock-infused reggae sound of Rebelution, led by frontman Eric Rachmany’s unique voice, permeated the pit. His vocals stood alone for just a moment as the band launched into its first number: “Safe And Sound,” from its debut album Courage to Grow. A collective voice quickly emerged from the pit alongside Rachmany’s, and as the audience members put their hands up and swayed to the syncopated reggae rhythm, it was clear that Rebelution’s sold-out show would be a good time.
When the band members performed “Attention Span,” their second song of the night, the looping guitar and weaving alt-rock and reggae mix was followed by Rachmany proclaiming, “We’ve got a good crowd tonight. Thank you guys for showing up!” A very pumped audience yelled back its excitement at the band on the stage of the Greek. Rebelution’s easygoing and positive vibe — possibly originating from its humble origins as UC Santa Barbara students playing backyard shows in Isla Vista — really resonated with the Berkeley crowd. What Rachmany did onstage was mirrored in the crowd; when his hands went up, so did the audience’s, and Rachmany’s vibrant performance was reflected by a wholesome energy in the pit.
Lighters flickered on, creating an enchanting and intimate moment with the band when it played “Fade Away,” accompanying the slower tempo and more atmospheric sound. A single spotlight shone on Rachmany, and when he launched into the bittersweet chorus, singing, “Ah, I know this won’t last forever / Ah, but I wish this could last forever,” it seemed particularly evocative of the mood of the audience members, who wanted to savor every moment of the concert.
The catchy chorus and comfortable melody of “City Life” from Rebelution’s new album Free Rein (the namesake of its 2018 summer tour) captured the audience members and transported them from the chilly Berkeley night to a sunny, summer beach. This escape was made more complete by the amazing horn section lead by saxophone player Eric Hirschhorn, who was quick to take off his shoes and let down his curly hair as he danced around the stage barefoot — as if on the sand — during “Outta Control.” These kinds of moments left the audience in a feel-good spirit that seems to be characteristic of Rebelution’s live performances. Rebelution’s members shined as they smiled at the audience, and the audience smiled back.
Riding on this feel-good vibe, Rebelution brought back Common Kings, one of the openers, to play “So High” off of Rebelution’s Peace of Mind album. The slower, deeper beat of the song, alongside the greenish lighting, lent itself to a relaxed, hazy mood. When Rachmany belted out the question, “Who’s got the herb when I’m dry?” it was apparent that the Berkeley audience had him covered, with the crowd lighting up in appreciation.
When Rebelution played “Lay My Claim,” one of the few songs played off of Falling Into Place, Rebelution’s 2016 album, one of the lyrics — “Don’t speak, just listen” — stood out. As “Roots Reggae Music” claims, there is “music in the message,” and Rebelution’s music is a testament to this. The band’s lyrics are noticeable for their inspirational messages and masterful dialogues emphasizing love, dedication, acceptance and healing. And when Rachmany sang out, “Let it all unfold straight from the soul,” the message came through and the music truly felt like a celebration of life.
A single spotlight on Rachmany with an acoustic guitar opened one of Rebelution’s most popular songs: “Feeling Alright”. He crooned to the audience with his soul-piercing voice, creating that instant connection with the crowd, and slowly, the rest of the band joined in.
Rebelution ended its set perfectly with “Roots Reggae Music” — and a humble acknowledgement that the band stands on the shoulders of reggae giants. Gratitude abounded as Rebelution thanked both the crowd and the openers. This gratitude was returned twofold by the crowd, and proves to be far-reaching, since anybody who has listened to Rebelution’s unique instrumentation and uplifting lyrics can feel the magic in its music.