Ziggy Marley, Belasco Theater, Los Angeles, CA-8/16
As cerebral as Ziggy Marley can be with his songwriting, his performances succeed on his physical enthusiasm as much as they do on provocative content. Couple those aspects with a band that is dynamic and sure at every turn, and what emerges is two hours of pulsating, heart-pumping elation. Marley’s stop in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles saw him at the Belasco, another in the line of gorgeous downtown theaters revitalized and fitted for live music, that had the reggae star nearly surrounded by his appreciative audience and, at one point, sharing the stage with a guesting hula dancer.
The dreadlocked singer bounded into the spotlight with the opening “Wild and Free,” smiling and swaying from the start, then turned to “Forward to Love,” taut under timekeeper Santa Davis’ crackling snare. From the new, self-titled album came “Start it Up,” its message of action rippling through a packed crowd, the adjacent stage wings swelling with happy VIPs and elder Rastas. Marley then deferred to his engaging pair of female dancer/singers to kick-off “Moving Forward” before heading back to the new release for a stirring “Amen.”
Ziggy has always done an excellent job of incorporating his father Bob’s repertoire into his own, selecting cherished favorites alongside deeper album cuts that work logically with his current set. His concerts play not only as cathartic parties, but as thematic statements, with love and social change recurring and, on this night, dominant. For every “One Love” and “Could You Be Loved,” both of which were crowd-pleasing inclusions, there were also the rare and thought-provoking “Top Rankin’” and “We and Dem,” from latter-day albums, Survival and Uprising, respectively.
That doesn’t mean that a mid-show surprise, like a colorfully seductive hula dancer gyrating to the jangly “Beach in Hawaii,” didn’t have a place. Yet, even with that pleasant diversion, Marley’s concentration quickly returned, progressing through early pop hits like “Tomorrow People,” and newer dips into rock and new wave ska on “I Don’t Wanna Live on Mars” and “Ceceil” that again called back to love and change. In fact, Ziggy’s run through the back-third of the appearance stayed fixed almost exclusively in this philosophical territory, with “Love is My Religion,” and its beautiful coda, leading a list mixing current entries- “We Are The People,” “Love is a Rebel” and the show finale “Weekend’s Long”- with gems “Look Who’s Dancing” and Bob’s “Is This Love.”
By the encore, Marley’s black button-down was dismissed. His underlying grey T-shirt soaked through with sweat. He and his group had left little doubt that every bit of available energy had been spent in the name of their unwavering musical expression.
Ziggy Marley is categorized as a reggae artist, and by most definitions that is true, if incomplete. While the genre is often described as a musical embodiment of loose and lax, Marley’s brand is nearly the opposite. This is not your father’s, (or Marley’s father’s) reggae. It is charged and clean; a sprint, not a stroll, where the tempos and stamina require him and his highly talented band to be positively possessed.