BY: Sarah and A.J. Kornely
Fans lined around the corner the 117-year-old Boulder Theater, huddled together tightly blanketed by a fast-moving snow squall, waiting in anticipation for the doors to open to the sold-out “20 Years of Kona Town.” Joe Samba and company. Inside, the crowd was just as eclectic as the theater itself with a blend of new and old technology, architecture, and music lovers spanning generations.
Samba has a soulful presence that demands attention. His voice as dynamic as the blend of music genres he generously pours into his craft, a mix of reggae-rock with some soul and funk mixed in. With the drummer singing backup vocals and the electric organist also playing the trombone, the band effortlessly enticed the crowd into rhythmic swaying. Samba played his cover of rapper Joyner Lucas’ “I love.” Samba’s rendition radiated with emotion and sincerity. It would be inaccurate to say Joe performs, because he sings with his heart on his sleeve. You can feel it in the soles of your feet, tingle through your body and wrap tightly around your heart and soul. His song, “Create Something,” will inspire you to persevere through any hardship and make something productive out of it. The Boulder Theater is the perfect venue to host artists like Joe. It’s an intimate setting in which any seat in the theater makes you feel like the music is being performed solely for you. Joe wrapped up his set by asking the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to his son. They enthusiastically obliged. Happy Birthday, young man!
Both bands performing tonight played off the “House that Bradley Built” album which is a tribute to the late Sublime front man, Bradley Nowell. Bradley’s influence was evident throughout the evening.
Pepper, typically a trio, came on stage busting with energy and toting an additional member who played guitar and some keyboard as well. Their mission for the evening, to play their 20-year-old sophomore release, “Kona Town,” in its entirety, the album to mainstream success. Pepper, originally from the big island of Hawaii, now hailing in San Diego, has enjoyed success in the reggae rock genre, gaining a sizable following touring along other popular artists such as 311, Slightly Stoopid, and Snoop Dogg. A grittier, heavier approach sets Pepper apart from other groups in the growing genre. Brett came out wearing a plaid coat with sunglasses and a beanie hat. Kaleo wore a white t-shirt and sunglasses while Yesod, wore a red, white and blue Hawaiian flag shirt and matching shorts.
“Kona Town” opens with an intro titled “The Good Thing,”which leads into the bass line opening plucked by Brett Bollinger, on one of their more recognizable songs, “Stone Love.” The Vocals by Kalleo Wassman, and Brett, are clean and full of slides throughout the song, reminiscent of Bradley Nowell, which continues throughout the whole album. “Stormtrooper” is a fan favorite, about standing up to oppression and injustice, which uses the never-hit-their-target soldiers from Star Wars, as an analogy. Pepper would have undoubtedly been a part of the resistance. During this song, clusters of lasers came on over the crowd’s heads, creating an entrancing atmosphere in the venue. At one point, the lead singer proclaimed to the crowd that this show had been the best of their tour thus far. Pepper abruptly stopped playing at another point to get the crowd to calm down, so an emergency crew could attend to a person on the floor who needed medical attention. After they were escorted to safety, Pepper dove right back into the show headfirst.
The first set ended with “Office” which contained a drum solo from Yesod Williams who was referred to by Brett as “the Dave Grohl of Reggae”. The solo was backed up with parts of the song “Stand Up” by rapper Ludacris. With a couple songs left on the album, the band left the stage. A crowd member quipped it was a weird time to take a break. When they returned, they started back up with an acoustic set with only the bass plugged in. This set was filled with fan favorites hits like “Rent” and “Bring me Along” as well as “Brand New Day”, an upbeat song about moving forward from a bad day off their 2019 album, “Local Motion.” During “Ashes” Pepper encouraged the fans to sing along and the theater was filled in an abundance of harmonical unity, the kind that leaves one’s cup full.
Pepper left the stage after the acoustic set and returned to cheers for their encore which was a few fan favorites. The set was capped off with their newest single “Warning” which was recorded with the band Stick Figure, but tonight, Joe Samba and his band returned to the stage to fittingly cap off the evening. It was an energetic rendition with members of both bands jumping around the stage, dancing, and interacting with one another. After the song Joe and his bandmates waved goodbye as the crowd roared their approval. Pepper remained on stage as Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line” poured over the speakers and the house lights came up. As the audience began to disperse, the artists mingled with the fans who adoringly refrained from leaving, signing autographs for them. They welcomed the crowd and played into them waving, smiling, and striking poses. Brett even tore off one of his white sneakers, licked it and threw it at the fans!
Pepper is coming back to Colorado on June 18 to play at Red Rocks with Stick Figure and The Elovaters.