Hawaiian-born reggae guitarist Mike Love has built a reputation as a musician who creates positive music. Some fans say it actually touches, heals, and connects spiritually with them. Love calls his style, “revolutionary consciousness music.” Love’s 3 1/2-hour concert at the Kahilu Theatre last Sunday felt more like a gospel revival than a typical reggae show. Although there’s no dance floor at this venue, the limited space between the front row and the lip of the stage was packed three-deep with those who wanted to rock out and party. Mostly clusters of young women – some with their arms in the air catching the positive vibe flowing from the message-filled music, some formed heart shapes with their hands and beamed the love right back to Love, while others used their cell phones to text friends or grab group selfies. In full adoration, one lady tossed her thick floral headdress to Love, who wore it for the second half of the show. This was not the regular demographic that attends events at the Kahilu. In contrast, the night before, the theatre was filled with folks who came out to see silver-haired seniors sing pop songs from the 1970s.
Sunday’s show was a mini-tour of the islands for Love and band. All sold-out concerts on Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island were promoted by Matt Laundrie’s HI Tide Nation. When not on tour, Love does a weekly gig on Oahu at Hawaiian Brian’s every Wednesday night. Love brought with him three-quarters of his Full Circle band: drummer Sam “Ites” Gonsalves, John Hawes, bass, and Keith Tsukamaki, keyboards. No reason was given for the absence of his usual horn section (Reggie Padilla and Arthur Davis).
The band’s stage set-up at the Kahilu seemed off to me. The theatre has a decent sized stage, but the layout seemed to be missing some necessary Feng Shui. The drummer (stage left) was at a 90-degree angle to the audience and faced Love, who was parked at the edge of stage right. Keyboards and bass took center stage and were wedged behind a row of monitors that flanked the front of the musicians. Everyone was a good 20 feet back from the edge of the stage, and I’m sure fans would’ve loved to have been just a little closer to the action. Love seemed to be a prisoner to his pedal/effects board. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a thing of beauty, with flashy lights – one box even spells out the word “SWEET” in digital letters. I swear there was even a round Amazon Alexa thingy with a light that rotated. Love has adapted the rig with less pointy switches so he can stomp on it bare-footed, and he does play sans shoes. (Check out Love’s Facebook page for a full break-down of all the gadgets he uses.) Since most of the songs are lyric-heavy, Love only departs from the pedal board for a brief solo or to jam face-to-face with his bassist. I had hopes of seeing him whip those knee-length dreadlocks around and knock-out a mic stand or two.
About every twenty minutes or so, the music stopped while Love connected with his audience. Sometimes it sounded like a sermon, and others were just a band update. Early on he spoke about taking time off from touring, and recording a live album on Oahu, but without the use of digital technology. “Music production has changed so much that instruments aren’t played by a musician, but rather programmed by a computer,” said Love. “But that’s not what we do, and we recorded the new album on an analog tape machine. There’s a lot of room for error, and we had to hone-in and come together to make it work.”
Mike Love comes from a family of musicians and ministers. His grandfather Robert Loveless was a much-appreciated minister, educator, radio commentator, and former director of Honolulu’s Model Cities program. Mike’s father, Wendell Loveless, was also a minister, and wrote one of the most well-known gospel choruses worldwide, “Every Day With Jesus.” When it came time to pass his name down to his children, Mike changed it officially to Love. “Everyone we meet we should think of as family,” said Love in a preacher-like tone as the crowd grew quiet and listened intensely. “We’re living in a tipping point in human history, and we have so much power to make a change. We all want to make a change for ourselves, and our children’s future. When we look around, we see a lot of people who don’t give a fuck, but we need to look at them as family, open our hearts, and teach them through compassion and understanding. I feel family and humankind is worth fighting for.” Before launching into a new song appropriately titled “Fighting For My Family,” Love’s “congregation” (of about 500) let loose with cheers of approval.
During another break from the music, Love talked about mortality and how precious time is. “Sometimes life ends a lot earlier then we expect it to,” said Love in a five-minute dissertation. “There’s no explanation for it, we’re not promised any of this, but we’re lucky to be alive in this moment.” Someone in the crowd broke the silence, and shouted out, “Chee Hoo!” Love concluded by saying, “It’s OK to make plans for the future, but it’s not good to invest in a plan that you have no idea if it will ever come to fruition because you never live in the moment. If you live this life to its fullest, you will have no regrets.” Love then played a solo version of the song “No Regrets.”
Near the end of the show, while Mike was playing some solo material, his band briefly retired to the Kahilu’s green room (actually painted red). There were some half-eaten cold Domino’s Pizza slices lying around and warm beer for band members. “Not a great spread,” a sound tech joked. “You should’ve let me put together your rider!” I asked the band, “Is there a set list for tonight’s show?” Keyboardist Tsukamaki looked up after knocking back some beer, and said, “We don’t use one. Mike starts a song, and we jump in. There are about sixty songs in the catalog to pick from.” After the break, the group joined Love on stage for a few more songs, and the show ended around 10:30 PM.
Big Island reggae musicians Sahra Indio and Lopaka Rootz opened the show with a 50-minute set of acoustic music. They’d been rehearsing together for several weeks, and this was their debut performance. Indio has a deep soulful voice, and has three CDs of all original tunes. She has toured Australia, Canada and across the U.S., alongside major reggae stars such as Alpha Blondy, Don Carlos, Midnite, and Bambu Station.
Lopaka Rootz is a rising star on the Big Island’s reggae scene. The thirty-four-year-old singer/songwriter performs at a variety of the clubs here on the island, solo and with the band Blended Rootz. The duo opened with Rootz’ new single “Takin’ It easy,” which is receiving airplay here and on Maui. Other highlights in their set were “Light Up The Darkness,” “War,” and “Grandmother.” It was nice to see that HI Tide Nation included some of our local talent on the bill.
Mike Love:: http://www.mikelovemusic.com
Sahra Indo: https://www.facebook.com/sahraindio/
Lopaka Rootz: https://www.lopakarootz.com
Read our interview with Mike Love: https://www.bigislandmusic.net/talking-story-with-award-winning-musician-mike-love/
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby