[Concert Review] Dirty Heads and SOJA at St. Augustine

The Dirty Heads and SOJA recently brought their unique brand of reggae-inspired jams to The St. Augustine Amphitheatre.

It was a night of explosive positivity and musical diversity. Each group spun their own twists on the reggae genre, delivering everything from heavy alt-rock guitars, to tropical percussive elements, to passionately rapped lyrics. With RDGLDGRN and The Green also on the bill, this event was loaded with big names and chill vibes from beginning to end. Each group brought their signature sound and energy to the stage, but Dirty Heads put on one of the standout sets that the theater has seen this year. They completely surprised audiences by working into funk, EDM, and hip-hop-inspired beats that were true to their sound but totally new for the group and their genre.

RDGLDGRN opened the night. Like SOJA, they are a DC-area reggae group influenced by the area’s local hip-hop with an alt-rock twist. They were then followed by The Green, who brought authentic Hawaiian reggae jams, big smiles and radiant energy. As the sold-out show filled the venue, they delivered a fun and upbeat set. Most of the group’s members sing, and their music embraces each singer’s individual tone while still having an excellent use of harmony together. There are no gimmicks or 420 jokes onstage with The Green. There are no blaring political messages, just good music and an electrifying energy.

SOJA came to stage next. There was an enormous number of loyal fans in the house. Over the years, some fans have complained that “(frontman Jacob Hemphill)’s voice is shot,” but we have always heard those emotional cracks in his voice. There was no live autotune: His vocals are genuine and not over-produced, which is unfortunately rare now.

The entire band clearly loves their fans and their music. They played all their hits for long-time fans to sing along with word-for-word. They also brought forward new, unreleased jams, which had great lyrical flow and powerful, unique content. Their next record is one that fans should be excited to hear.

There is a real bond and interconnectedness fostered by SOJA’s music. The horn section is used with balance. Acoustic percussion keeps things earthy and real. Their set ended with a huge ska/reggae style jam that had almost every musician of the night onstage. It was great to see their set end with such vivacity, because throughout their set, fans could vividly see the wear and emotions on Hemphill’s face. Delivery and connection are clearly important to the band and they give fans all their honesty and energy regardless of the subject or sound of a song.

Dirty Heads began their set with older, slower hits that flowed nicely with the rest of the evening. Eventually, they started dipping into pop sounds, building into a floor-shaking blend of funk, EDM and hip-hop inspirations. There was a smooth transition into their new, more experimental-pop tracks that really took off after megahit “My Sweet Summer.” After this track dropped, shirts were unbuttoned, hair was let loose and Dirty Heads pushed the crowd head-first into a sweaty summertime symbiosis of freak-nasty booty dancing and old school grooves.

Dirty Heads are truly dirty live. They put on a surprisingly heavy and totally wild show. They have morphed their sound into perfect party music. They are like long-haired rock-and-rollers, reggae rudeboys, suave pop stars, jam band hippies, old school funk players, chill hip-hop beatmakers and EDM hitmen all at once. Their light show cast a cannabis-colored fog across the humid night’s sky, cut by violet laser beams and electrified strobes.

This night brought the audience to a place that few would have expected from a chilled-out reggae show, but eventually everyone had let loose. When the musicians themselves are letting loose onstage, playing with that true sense of release and freedom that we all crave, it is easy to radiate that yourself. The opening acts and SOJA made everyone so comfortable that as time flew by through the Dirty Heads’ set, we were all left wanting a second set from the group.

It will be so interesting to see what the future holds for the group. Will they continue to explore all these wild new inspirations and expand their appeal or go back to their roots? My thoughts: this Dirty Heads tour is a turning point for the group and they are about to do even huger things than they are now.

Photos by Abby Lynn Pierce

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