While I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of conscious reggae album releases in 2012, even stunned by Midnite’s Children of Jah (an album I picked as the best of the year, I must say that it is Ziggy Marley’s Live in Concert that I was anticipating the most. I have been a fan of Ziggy’s ever since he jumped upon the international scene with Play The Game Right and Hey World in the mid-1980s. Of course redemption came early for Ziggy and his Melody Makers when 1987’s Conscious Party won over the radio-listening “tuff crowd” to become one of the year’s best albums, even capturing the reggae Grammy in Los Angeles. However, when Ziggy broke from the Melody Makers in 2000, something drastically changed and his music started to meander down a folksy road, picking up a little Ben Harper and Jack Johnson on the ride. That said, I hear from many fans whose opinions I respect on reggae, who tell me that my pallette is not refined enough to grasp what he is doing. Fair point. I apologize for being stuck on ‘Wise & Foolish’ while the rest of the world was discovering ‘Labour of Love.’
Of course his talent, vocal abiliyies, and stage presence has evolved tremendously over the past 30 years (that’s right, Ziggy Marley has been a touring musician for 30 years!), and having the best and tightest live reggae band in the world at your disposal doesn’t hurt. I was excited for this live album because to me, reggae is a ‘live’ music. It is best and most felt in a live venue, where the music is present, even in a physical form, at times. Even those songs which I regularly skip over on his solo albums I am able to feel deeply when played live.
The first thing the listener will notice about this album is the quality of the live recordings. There is a reason that sound engineer Errol Brown always has a prominent seat on the tour bus. He makes Ziggy, and Takeshi, and Santa, and the rest of this well-oiled machine sound fantastic. This quality of this live recording matches most studio albums. So if you are someone who shys away from live recordings out of fear that the audio might be bad, no worries here.
The album works from start to finish as the multi-talented musicians supporting Ziggy move seamlessly through a setlist worthy of a live album. Unlike many live albums, each song sounds organic to the recording, this is because the album was recorded live in one take at a Boulder, Colorado theatre during a benefit to support research for non-genetically modified seeds.
The set opens with a loathsome “Higher Vibration” (is there a worse tune in his arsenal?). However, the pace picks up considerably with “Personal Revolution,” the stand-out track from last year’s Wild and Free. “Jah Will Be Done,” “Forward To Love,” “Tomorrow People,” “Justice/War,” “Changes” – by the time you reach “True To Myself” you realize that these songs take on a whole different vibe when played live. The “Justice/War” performance is nothing if not incredibly impassioned and authentic. He surprisingly visits not one, but two of his father’s tunes, as “Is This Love” rounds out the performance along with “Wild and Free” and a bonus track “Conscious Party” where Zig-Zag takes us back to his roots. Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Melody Makers…it’s all here and it sounds better than ever. Ziggy Marley Live in Concert is a pleasant surprise and one which keeps on giving.
As for Ziggy’s favorite live performances, he says without a doubt that Fela Kuti Live in Chicago and his father’s performances at the One Love Peace Concert and Zimbabwe Independence Celebration are tops for him.