NEW YORK — While it was raining Thursday night, it was nothing compared to the Tropical Storm inside S.O.B.’s, where preeminent dancehall artist Beenie Man was celebrating the release of his latest album.
Originally booked at Irving Plaza, the show relocated at the last minute, trading in the cold, open space for a more intimate and theme-appropriate venue, replete with a palm tree in the middle of the club.
“Are you ready for some healing from the Dr. Beenie Man?” the MC asked as the five-piece Ruff Kutt band from Jamaica played a funky overture including some snippets of Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” before Beenie Man appeared on stage singing “Dancehall Queen,” clad in a white tracksuit, a white tank top, and a white visor with his name stamped on the side. He wore a chunky diamond ring on his middle finger, a diamond cross around his neck, a watch on each wrist and a smile that nearly took up his entire face.
Beenie Man’s set didn’t begin until well after midnight (still relatively early for a dancehall show), but the waterlogged crowd was energetic. It was impossible not to be: The man’s got charisma to spare and literally did not break a sweat while he performed for just under two hours.
Before the show, Ruff Kutt’s bandleader, Nigel Staff, talked about Beenie Man’s penchant for stopping songs in the middle and switching to another if he isn’t getting the desired response from the crowd.
While he didn’t pull that so soon into the show, he did quiet the band to tell the audience, “We don’t sing stuff and you clap. We sing stuff and you dance. When we stop, you clap. So take your hands out of your pockets and wave those motherf—ers in the air. This is vibe music.”
Before the crowd-pleasing “Toy Friend” — a cautionary tale to men to satisfy their women or else someone like Beenie Man could come along and really do the job — he acted out this vignette in an impressive one-man act with a little pantomime thrown in for good measure.
“For those that don’t understand sh– that we be sayin’ sometimes, but are enjoying themselves … ” Beenie Man paused to consider how he might be able to lend a hand, then said, “F— it. It’s gonna get worse.”
Amid the classic yardie rhythms and the rapid-fire patois lyrics, the beat to Nas and P. Diddy’s “Hate Me Now,” “Guantanamera,” and even “Who Let the Dogs Out?” found their way into the set.
“He or she who loves the president of the United States, wave your hands.”
Everyone’s heads swiveled to see how many hands were in the air. There were none.
“Did you hear what I said?” Beenie Man asked.
Two hands, both belonging to the same person, went up in the back.
“I burn all world leaders,” Beenie Man said. “When war breaks out, the world leaders won’t feel anything, they’ve got their bomb shelters. You know who will feel the pain? The people will feel the pain.”
With that, the band crescendoed and Beenie Man performed the Barrington Levy song “Murderer.” The crowd, everyone ranging from old-school Rastas to downtown boho poseurs, erupted.
After his moment to wax political came the business: the part of the show where he performs a block of songs from the new album and everyone is urged to run out and buy it.
Among the tunes were his first Tropical Storm single, “Feel It Boy” featuring Janet Jackson (though she wasn’t there), “Party Hard,” his next single “Street Life,” and “Real Gangsta.”
From the butterfly to the Harlem shake to the white girl two-step, every conceivable way of moving your body to a beat was represented at the show. But that was nothing compared to Beenie himself, who swiveled and thrust his pelvis in a way that would make Elvis blush.
Before he played “Romie,” a track recognizable to anyone whether or not they listen to dancehall music, Beenie Man played a little Simon Says with the crowd, challenging them to keep up with his staccato tongue twisters.
Then came the “Ladies’ Songs” — “Boney Pu—-,” a touching ode to female genitalia, and the song Beenie Man called his favorite until he dies, “Girls Dem Sugar.”
“Everybody’s gotta jump. If you love yourself, I wanna see you jump after three. If you respect your mom and love God, jump. If you’re free from sins and everything you do is for your family and for yourself, jump. If you’re white and don’t understand sh– we’re saying, jump the same way, motherf—ers.” The venue shook as the crowd followed his lead with high, exuberant jumps.
As the show wound down, he and Ruff Kutt performed a medley of Caribbean and folk songs including the Jamaican National Anthem and “We Shall Overcome.”
“Love me now or hate me more ’cause we still gon’ be here,”
Beenie Man said. Then he closed the show with a prayer. “I love you all. God love you all.”
When the lights came up, the tropical storm had subsided and the crowd was ushered back into the cold, rainy city.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.