Throughout its 50-year history as a reggae fusion innovator-turned-icon, Third World has been the epitome of adaption. It’s probably what’s best enabled the present-day sextet to continue to surprise and satisfy both the group’s hardcore audience that sings every word and anyone new to the party who’s not exactly prepared for its founding guitarist and vocalist, Stephen ‘Cat’ Coore, to sit down, near the 100-minute set’s conclusion, and play cello on an instrumental nod to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Or offer up The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” next to Andrea Bocelli’s “Con te partiro;” the latter a show-stealing solo performance delivered by the wonderfully versatile vocal talent of frontman, A.J. Brown.
Yet, that’s just what can happen at any Third World concert, and did at the band’s Friday night, near-sellout appearance at The Ocean Mist. The seaside Rhode Island club packed in a crowd that ranged in age nearly as much as the music ranges in genres across the group’s eclectic discography. Early favorites in the set included “Reggae Ambassador”- itself a title this legendary Jamaican band has held now for decades- and a nod to their cocktails of soul and R&B, as on The O’Jays’ “Now That We Found Love,” as the ensemble detailed a musical evolution from its 1973 island origins into the shiny dance-vibe of the 1980s and back again. There was even a keytar cameo, as styled by the band’s current keyboardist, Norris Webb, that in lesser hands would have seemed a novelty, but here just accentuated the funk.
Still, the six felt at their peak when they treaded back to their one-drop roots and their certified reggae classic, “1865 (96 Degrees in the Shade),” that held the Mist masses in a collective sway. The group’s membership has shifted over the 50 years; it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t. Though, as ‘Cat’ Coore remains at the band’s center- still singing note-tight harmony, still rippling off emotive runs and lock-down rhythm accompaniment on guitar- the spirit and vitality continues. Certainly, this (and any) band benefits from the muscular, yet thoughtfully tasteful percussion of drummer, Tony ‘Ruption’ Williams, whose djembe solo brought him out from behind the kit, to the appreciative ovation from the sweaty, crowded house.
All totaled- the insistent, but enthused professionalism, the taut musicianship, the ranging repertoire- it’s an equation that Third World adds up in performance after performance. And as the sweetly lingering notes of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Three Little Birds,” wafted out over the Atlantic, on an encore sometime after midnight, these six reggae ambassadors notched another show that delighted the faithful and left the newcomer, understandably, in a state of awe.