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Spiritual Rez at House of Blues

On the first night of the coldest weekend the Northeast has seen this winter, Spiritual Rez appropriately begins their set with “In the Cold”, with vocalist/guitarist Toft Willingham letting his vo ice tremolo and build as if he were outside, waiting at the bus stop. With a subdued first few minutes musically, the band slowly grows in volume and intensity until the groove falls into place, a thick reggae bounce. Toft starts high stepping and the horns bust out. The lighting technician starts having fun, and the band begins to bounce.

And they don’t stop bouncing.

Though opening for John Brown’s Body at the House of Blues, Rez has the energy and passion that is enough to make them the act to see, and playing in their hometown of Boston, they slowly fill the concert hall with fans that arguably consider Spiritual Rez to be Boston’s mascot for reggae music.

Toft wears big white sunglasses and his lanky body begins a motion I can only describe as soft ice cream swirling out of a machine into a cone. To his right is Van Gordon Martin, a small powerhouse, stout enough that behind him bassist Jesse Shaternick, tall and looking like George Harrison’s nephew, creates a sort of totem pole effect. Van has this beautiful guitar and taps his effects pedals to add glorious emotion to the song.

To Toft’s left, drummer Ian “Meat” Miller has his shaggy hair in his face and he pounds his four-piece kit like Dave Grohl in his Nirvana days, an absolute carnal passion for hitting things with sticks. Jesse seems to be undergoing unfaltering orgasm, and while his hands look to be doing very little, the bass sound from the speakers is rich, complex, and wonderful.

Trombonist Bryan House and Saxophonist Kory Stanbury wear hats to stay warm and work with Toft in dancing and encouraging the audience to move and be happy. They seem totally at ease, as they should. This is their time to change people, and it’s already working.

“We try to promote happiness and love,” Toft told me in an interview. “We don’t want to cram bias opinions down anyone’s throat.” He adds, “The Rez show gives people a chance to escape the hustle and have fun. Dance if you want to. Listen and watch if you want to. It’s all about your personal experience.”

Sure enough, the idea is to have a good time. Rez’s sound flows from funk to reggae, but at the House of Blues they keep their set heavily reggae. Toft takes the mic off the stand and walks closer to the audience, ranting about shedding the bad stuff. He talks so quickly that I can’t transcribe any of it, but his message is clear as he performs the nightly count up: “One. Two. One, two. One, two, three, four!”

The house lights come on brightly and the audience releases a primal scream.

Immediately, the groove falls back into place, and Toft throws his bare feet high into the air.

Rez loves their audience and makes sure, above all, that they’ll leave in better “spirits” than when they entered. “If we didn’t have fans, we couldn’t create this music,” Toft explains. “The concert goer, the music appreciator; they are the fuel that drives the machine.”



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