Calypso Rose, queen of calypso


The Queen trumped the King on Thursday at the Dakota.The opening act topped the headliner.Calypso Rose was far more impressive than the Mighty Sparrow.

In an eventful evening of Caribbean music, Sparrow, 75, seemed to be suffering physically (he reportedly suffers from a pinched nerve), and Calypso Rose, who turns 71 next week, was on top of her game.

Seated for most of his too-brief 50-minute set,Sparrow looked sharp and his loud voice sounded hearty, full of growls, ai-yi-yi’s and ardent exhortation. But he lacked energy and focus. He gave a taste of the cheeky humor of calypso but little of the politics and social commentary.

Moreover, the legend from Trinidad relied heavily on recorded music delivered via computer and assigned a keyboardist to play horn and steel-drum parts. Watching one of calypso’s most vital voices dancing on a stool was disheartening — especially after such a delightfully spirited set by Calypso Rose.

Using the same four-man Candy Shop Boys band as Sparrow, Rose promised 61 minutes but delivered an unforgettable 75.

Chatty, devilishly humorous and eternally sunny, the Tobago native, who has lived in New York since 1983, carried on like your firecracker grandmother. She shook her derriere at the audience, flirted with men near the stage and cracked wise about her sidemen, her age and the weather ("when will spring be here? July?) She even got silly with her lyrics, ad libbing in "Green Green Grass of Home" that her family came to meet her in the peneteniary because "I was smoking the green green grass of home." What a character!

And a strong singer, with a voice that could be sweet, robust or Louis Armstrong-like (call her Satchma). She got the crowd dancing with some Caribbean favorites (especially her 1966 anthem "Fire in Me Wire") and entertained the near full house with more familiar fare, including a lounge-y medley of "Green Green Grass of Home," "Dark End of the Street" and "I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You."

Calypso Rose has to rank as one of the most remarkable opening acts in the storied history of the Dakota.

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