The work that has made Lee “Scratch” Perry an underground hero–pioneering dub reggae while producing classic records by everyone under the Jamaican sun–doesn’t necessarily translate into the stuff of golden concert performances. In their book Reggae International, writers Stephen Davis and Peter Simon report that Perry’s 1981 American tour with backing group the Terrorists was “the worst in reggae history.” Thankfully Live at Maritime Hall (2B1 Records), a CD documenting his first American show since (in San Francisco in April), won’t inspire any such claims, but it does catch Perry in his least interesting mode, rapping and ranting over a moderately groovy band mixed live by Neal “Mad Professor” Fraser. Perry’s got a bewitching voice, by turns charming and crazed, but his rambling gets wearying after time–even on a funny version of the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” retitled “Come Go With Lee.” And though self-styled Scratch protege Fraser, who will also be on hand for this concert, is competent, he isn’t half the mixmaster Perry once was. In his mid-70s heyday, Scratch was a visionary; he could strip and rebuild any reggae hit as a brand-new second-hand cut. That’s clearly why he’s revered by modern studio innovators like the Beastie Boys, and it’s what makes listening to the endless permutations of any given track on the recent three-CD set Arkology a rewarding experience. But the cutthroat Jamaican music scene pushed Perry–whose psychological stability was never a given–to the brink, and when his Black Ark Studios burned down at the end of the 70s, it seemed he was headed for self-destruction. He continued making records, including the excellent Time Boom X De Devil Dead (On-U Sound), with Dub Syndicate backing and producer Adrian Sherwood cochairing, but rumors of his insanity and drug-addled disintegration circulated rampantly. Fortunately, a woman from Zurich offered him sanctuary; now they’re married with kids, far from the music-business vampires and werewolves that once populated his songs. Like his performances, Perry’s records over the last decade have been very uneven, ranging from the strong From the Secret Laboratory (Mango) and The Upsetter and the Beat (Heartbeat) to the almost unlistenable Message From Yard (Rohit). But this exceedingly rare opportunity to see the 62-year-old dub messenger in the flesh is probably worth the gamble. Friday, 9 PM, Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison; 773-327-1662 or 312-559-1212. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Adrian Boot.