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Damian Marley & Stephen Marley Concert Review

Damian Marley & Stephen Marley
September 11th, 2015
CrossroadsKC - Kansas City, MO

Stephen Marley strumming his guitar
Jah blessed Kansas City with a reggae concert with one of the most impressive lineups I've seen in quite some time last night. As CrossroadsKC slowly began to fill, a DJ with a laptop played old school reggae hits. He frequently turned down the songs to ask the people if they were ready for the Catch A Fire Tour. While nobody really responded that enthusiastically, I feel like everyone knew that this was going to be an exciting evening. As showtime inched closer, the DJ announced that it was "five minutes to showtime" then "two minutes to showtime" and coolly invited those still in the parking lot to come inside and join everyone.

The first act to come on stage was Tarrus Riley, a reggae singer from Jamaica (nearly everyone on the bill was from Jamaica). Riley started his career in the early 2000's on VP Records. Lots of records from that time sounded very synthetic and used a lot more computerized elements (drum machines, electronic keyboards, etc.) than how most people think of reggae. Even some of his records sound like that, but live with his band Riley achieves a very sunny, organic roots reggae sound. Riley, who is very light on his feet, hopped and skipped his way through his 45 minute set with ease. At one point, Riley stopped to ask the crowd, "Does anyone here smoke marijuana?" and quickly covered his mouth before laughing and letting the "children" know that there are more ways to use it than smoking, like herbal tea. Sometimes you just have to learn from the pros! Later on a more serious note he had a short moment of silence for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and also wished everyone a happy Ethiopian New Year. His cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" was also excellent.
Tarrus Riley

After Riley's performance I ventured into the venue's VIP green room where local DJ Rico Dejoie was spinning vintage reggae records and G's Jamaican Quisine was serving up jerk chicken and other Caribbean foods. If you're ever in the mood, you should definitely visit the restaurant in South Kansas City.

By this point the sun had gone down almost completely and the breeze took the temperature down to about 60 degrees. I was glad I had decided to bring my jacket in and was feeling a little bad for any of the Easygoing Dads(tm) there that had showed up in Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts. Morgan Heritage was next up to bat. The band formed in 1994, featuring veteran reggae musician Denroy Morgan and a band of his sons. The band was introduced by an old Rastafarian man wearing a big read sweatsuit wearing an oversized knitted hat, sunglasses, and an assortment of rasta-colored beads and bracelets, shouting excitedly to the point where you almost couldn't understand him. Oddly enough I had seen them play at Warped Tour a few years ago. Not sure how that came to be. Anyway, the band played a familiar style of roots reggae but the songs early on in their set had a much more serious tone than that of the fun, pop-influenced songs of Tarrus Riley. The ending of their songs were also very theatrical, but definitely not in a bad way. The band is very experienced and was very capable of pulling the moves they were. About halfway through their set, Denroy introduced his grandson Jamere Morgan as he joined the band for a couple songs, the first of multiple family member cameos in the night. After Jamere's appearance the band launched into a bouncy ska number and the percussionist pounded away at his bongos and shook a tambourine. The band played a couple more songs and during the ending of their last one played a short bit of OutKast's "So Fresh, So Clean," for a fun little surprise.

This show had miraculously run on time for the whole first end, a rare feat in the art of the reggae  concert. Running almost half an hour late, Stephen Marley's band finished getting ready on stage. The hypeman was back to introduce Black Am I, a younger signee to Damian Marley's Ghetto Youths label. He played a couple songs including an upbeat new one called "In The Ghetto." Stephen Marley's son Jo Mersa performed a couple next. These two performers had a few at least a few people confused due to the fact that the way they were billed made it look like they were opening the show, not playing directly before Stephen's set. A Kansas City Star photographer was definitely thrown a bit off. Jo Mersa played a style of reggae a little more similar to his uncle Damian than father Stephen though. He ran on stage and shouted, "Are you ready, Kansas?" and demanded that the crowd put their hands up.
Morgan Heritage

At 9:23, after a couple songs each from the two youngsters, Stephen Marley finally emerged. The husky, second oldest son of Bob Marley calmly and happily walked out onto center stage with his electric guitar around his neck, waving to the crowd. His was followed by a tall man moving very quickly waving a large Rastafarian flag, which he would continue to do for nearly all of Stephen and Damian's performances. Some might question bringing a flag-waver on tour, but this guy clearly killed it. Stephen has been singing and playing for many years (solo and with Ziggy Marley's band) but only has two albums of his own, so he chose to play a handful of his father's songs. This also might be due to the fact that his voice seems more similar to Bob's than Damian's does (Stephen does do more signing though, while Damian raps a bit). I also noticed that he dressed much more plainly than Damian, wearing an ordinary jacket and blue jeans. Maybe those things are because Stephen grew up seeing his father for longer than Damian, who was born only three years before Bob died. These are just some wild guesses though. It could just be a taste thing.

Stephen and his band played a very smooth, and at times romantic style of roots reggae. All of the traditional elements were there too; the echoing snare and bubble keyboard parts. One exciting moment was during Stephen's 2011 single "No Cigarette Smoking (In My Room)". One of his female backing singers took the spotlight and crooned with a quiet, yet strong voice momentarily. As Stephen wandered back over to the microphone, he has the band quiet down and shouts, "I need some marijuana!" and lets out a goofy laugh. Everyone there was pretty charmed. While there were a couple fun moments with his solo material, the crowd was gave their biggest cheers during his Bob covers, which included "Is This Love," "Buffalo Soldier," "Iron Lion Zion," and "Three Little Birds" where he was joined by Skip Marley, the son of Cedella Marley (Bob's second daughter). He's still 18 with a voice that's a bit high pitched, but he shows lots of promise. Over the course of an hour, Stephen gave an exemplary performance. He is just a bit over 40 though, so while after the "Iron Lion Zion" cover he seemed thrilled with the reaction and still energetic, by the time they finished "Three Little Birds" he seemed a tad bit winded. Not a big complaint though.

Damian Marley
Damian's band quietly took their places a few minutes before 10:30 and began a creeping instrumental intro, followed by an excerpt of a Haile Selassie speech projected onto the canvas behind them and the marching drum beat that starts "Confrontation," the first song on Damian's Welcome To Jamrock album. If you had to describe Damian's energy in one word, it would without a doubt be powerful. From the way his five foot long dreadlocks swing around as he performs, to the thunderous backing beats he sings over, Damian's whole aura just exudes power. He performed his Dennis Brown-sampling song "Promised Land" and his Bob Marley-sampling song "Move!" while constantly hopping in place and spitting the fastest lines of the night. During the latter song, his backup singers quickly turned into backup dancers and shook every limb on their body at double time. Brother Stephen ended up back on the stage for their shared dancehall-stle song "Traffic Jam" and a few others near the end. Damian also rapped a verse he had in a song with Bruno Mars called "Liquor Store Blues," but it was blended into the song before it so not many people noticed. Damian moved neatly from his loud songs to his soft ones, including humanitarian-type tune "Patience," where he sang about the children not having food for their starving tummies. Damian also gave the Ethiopians a shoutout, which resulted in at least one man standing behind me letting out several loud "boh boh bohs" during the following song. As his main set came to a close, all of the other band members from the night were brought back on stage and threw their arms over each others' shoulders for "Could You Be Loved."

Damian's encore included "Get Up, Stand Up," "Road To Zion," and his biggest hit, "Welcome To Jamrock." Damian, like Stephen, seemed a bit winded during his last song, but it was understandable given the energetic performances they gave. The exceptionally large crowd seemed visibly happy on their way out, and I think that was the Catch A Fire Tour's mission.

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