Lee “Scratch” Perry | photo by Joe Del Tufo for WXPN | deltufophotography.com

I didn’t know what to expect from this one. I was aware of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s music, a melange of dub/reggae and electronics that he largely invented over a number of decades. That he is a Grammy winner and is listed by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 greatest artists (of any genre) of all time. I was also aware that the man is 80. But I was not expecting this.

It was a strong, diverse crowd at World Cafe, mostly younger people up front. Perry’s backing band Subatomic Sound System played a 40 minute into set, which was excellent set the stage nicely. Legendary percussionist Larry McDonald was standout, especially considering he is also in his late 70s- he alone was worth the price of admission. When Lee finally came out it was to a roar from the crowd- even at 80 the man was instantly spritely and was festooned in a colorful getup that was part reggae, part crazy homeless guy. His microphone was embedded in a beer can, and his clothing/ hat/ suitcase and shoes all had various random trinkets attached to them.

Lee "Scratch" Perry | photo by Joe Del Tufo for WXPN | <a href=http://www.deltufophotography.com/ target="_blank">deltufophotography.com</a>

Lee “Scratch” Perry | photo by Joe Del Tufo for WXPN | deltufophotography.com

Once the music started it was just a surreal throbbing, dancing, 80th birthday party. Perry pulled music from over five decades of his career, and it was clear that some of his creations were unique to the genre. The seminal reggae album Super Ape, now almost 40 years old, was the heart of the show. Perry, holding a goblet of Guinness when he arrived on stage, soon found himself maestro of the smoke that filled in the venue. I hadn’t experienced anything like this since Snoop Dogg played Firefly, and that was outdoors. I don’t know how he did it — this 80 year old guy pacing the stage like a feral cat, jumping and singing and engaging the crowd, pulling young women on stage and basically owning the place.

The music was expectedly meditative and diverse for the genre. Or perhaps it was the second hand smoke that had become my oxygen for the night. Perry was a true frontman, telling stories, fist pumping the crowd and weaving his way in and out of 50 years of music. One of the highlights for me was a song played late in the set called “Black Art Vampires.” It’s a throbbing, recursive song that is an once futuristic and also grounded in classic reggae. It was a surreal night of celebratory beats, and something I won’t soon forget, or be sure I actually experienced.