I'm writing about this show nearly two months after the fact; I admit, I've been remiss, and I have excuses that you either already know, or don't care about. The one applicable excuse, though, is that I've been in somewhat of a quandary as to how to describe this experience. I was introduced to Midnite by a handcrafted mix-CD without track listings. I eventually found out that all the very best songs came from the same people: Midnite—and, because I am the luckiest, the person who made me this mix-CD also bought tickets for the Midnite show at S.O.B.'s.
When I used to go to late-night movies at Film Forum, and would descend into the Houston Street 1-train subway stop, I would always hear a pulsing beat leaking out of the vents of a utility room off the tracks. I used to think, "Damn, that MTA knows how to party!", picturing a secret break room behind those doors with a bumping stereo system. Eventually, I realized that the beat was coming from S.O.B.'s, a club right up above the subway station. That was years ago, but this was the first night I had ever been inside. It's a small club, wider than it is deep, which is good, because basically everyone is right up in front of the band—and Midnite is a band you want to be up close to.
I don't know much about them and I won't pretend to know more than I do; what you need to know is that they are from St. Croix and they are the antidote to what Reggae has become under the tutelage of Sean Paul. But at that opposite end of the spectrum, they don't merely inhabit what sound Bob Marley once did; they are something completely their own: spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and totally rocking. Vaughn Benjamin is not a singer; he is a prophet. Streams of language bubbled up out of his mouth, and the rastas in the audience, with their dreadlocks bundled up in scarves, watched with reverence. A few times that night, while the band played over four hours straight, one of the older rastas in the audience, a lumbering man with dreadlocks down past his waist, held his locks up to Benjamin, simultaneously giving and receiving blessing.
We danced and danced and danced. A few times, I recognized a series of lyrics that linked back to mix-CD, but I don't know what songs were played; the experience was too organic for the "performance" of tracks. Not was the show like one of the drug-fueled interminable meanderings of, say, Phil Lesh—each moment was startlingly lucid, deep, memorable. I still see Vaughn's eyes glowing with a knowledge simultaneously dark and bright as he looked out and through us, holding the mic in fine, slender hands up close to his lips, murmuring warnings, instructions, and dedications.