Photo by Jeffrey Nebauer
It felt like Missoula, Montana had been waiting for Damian Marley to make a visit for quite some time. After all, his brothers Ziggy and Stephen had both been welcomed with open arms and his father’s old band The Wailers have stopped in the mountain town enough times to almost be called regulars. The youngest son of the reggae legend seemed like the last holdout, but when he finally did make his debut on the stage of the Wilma Theatre in support of his new album Stony Hill reggae lovers filled the room on a dreary Sunday night in celebration of all things irie.
After a lively set from the opener Kabaka Pyramid, Jr. Gong’s band settled in to an intro groove before Marley emerged to the hip hop beat of “Here We Go.” He reached back to his sophomore album Halfway Tree for “Justice,” and his ankle-length dreadlocks swayed to the beat as he spoke out about the state of global upheaval on “Time Travel.” All the while his seven-piece band – eight including the Rastafarian flag waver – was locked steadily into the rhythm, stopping only when the frontman signaled for them to cut the beat so he could ask the crowd “How you FEELING?!”
Judging by the cheers, the crowded theater was feeling just fine, and perhaps no more so than when Marley brought up his favorite botanical topic, marijuana. As he told an intro story to “Medication” someone in the audience threw a joint onstage and clouds of smoke erupted in the pit as people skanked to the rhythm. He visited the beginning of his career for “Love and Unity,” and then paid the first essential tribute to his father with a mashup of “War” and “No More Trouble” that heavily featured the harmonies of his backup singers. More nods to his personal heritage and the roots of his genre played out throughout the set. The dancehall blast of “Move!” further teased the elder Marley’s “Exodus,” and “Nail Pon Cross” borrowed a synth line from Black Uhuru’s “Unity.” Later Jr. Gong brought his set to a close with a cover of his father’s classic, “Is This Love.”
The show was far from over; as the audience cheered on Marley and band took the stage again for a lengthy encore that started with another new track, “Caution.” Damian paid tribute to his father once again with “Could You Be Loved,” bringing out the opener Kabaka Pyramid for a rap verse near the end. After “Road To Zion” the singer delivered what many in the audience had been waiting all night to hear: an energetic “Welcome to Jamrock” that had the whole crowd moving.