11/27-28: First Light at Grog Shop

Back in the 1980s, First Light was one of the nation’s first renegade reggae bands. The Cleveland ensemble fused funky island rhythms with genres like rock and jazz, and they toured North America extensively, spreading the gospel of reggae with big songs, bright torches and good vibes. It’s been 25 years since First Light formed two blocks from the Grog Shop, in an apartment on Hampshire Road shared by local music luminaries Mike “Chopper” Wasson and Carlos Jones, who had just left another pioneering Cleveland reggae band, I-tal. To celebrate a quarter century since that inception, First Light are planning two nights of “Full Circle” reunion shows at the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Hts., 216.321.5588) Friday and Saturday night at 9. “We were 311 before 311,” says guitarist, bassist and singer Chopper. “We actually opened up a lot of doors for other bands with the sound of reggae. We mixed the cultures together to make it a little more digestible to the crowds, because we incorporated jazz, rock, funk, blues, reggae, dub. Every element was in there. It wasn’t a planned thing. It was just a nice melting pot of gumbo, and it worked out pretty well for us.” It worked out pretty well for Cleveland too. The band played legendary live gigs for 14 years, recording great albums like 1988’s radiating reggae classic Meltdown and its funk-rock follow-up, 1995’s Groove Telepathy, before breaking up in 1997. Using instrumentation that varied from guitars and horns to flutes and traditional Nyabinghi drums, the ensemble could rock hard or settle into a mellow groove. They made crossover music that sounded like Steel Pulse or Third World, and it earned them opening slots for artists as diverse as the Dead Milkmen, Black Uhuru, UFO, Taylor Dane and Living Colour. And even though these technically aren’t their first reunion shows (the band played a couple of times last year), they will be a rare chance to see First Light where they grew up. “Twenty-five years is a very long time in some respects and a blink of an eye to some,” says drummer Rod Reisman, who now plays percussion for the Prayer Warriors and Cletus Black Revue. “We are pulling out several songs from the vaults — even songs that we had pushed to the side or forgotten about.” Tickets: $20. — Keith Gribbins

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