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On Monday night, contemporary reggae legend Stephen Marley played to a sold out crowd at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club. When I entered the club, the place was packed and people were more than ready to go. The house DJ was spinning a solid selection of classic roots tracks from the past couple decades such as reggae staples “Night Nurse” and Burning Spear’s “Marcus Garvey”.
After the roots backdrop got everyone settled and ready for some music, the band took the stage and began to groove on a solid reggae beat, complete with soulful tenor sax lines and a hard thumping bass. While they played, the MC of the night took it upon himself to introduce the next act, Jamaican dancehall star Spragga Benz. After getting the crowd pumped to his liking, the hype-man left the stage to be replaced by Spragga. For this show, instead of playing his more dancehall related tracks, Spragga Benz focused on his more vocally dynamic music, allowing him to sing more and bounce around less. During his set it became apparent that the band these guys had brought over from Jamaica was not messing around. I suppose when you’re Stephen Marley, you can afford to get the best musicians around for you and for your supporting acts to come along on tour. One particular standout was drummer Squidly Cole, who held the entire set together with amazing chops and fluidity. Spragga’s set was embraced warmly by the crowd who seemed happy that he was leaning away from his more dancehall oriented material to better fit the mood and to better fit Stephen Marley’s audience.
About half an hour after Spragga’s set was done, the hype-man and band emerged back onto the stage. The MC decided to sell Stephen in his introduction as the “reincarnation” of his larger than life father. I didn’t appreciate this for a couple reasons. First of all, as great as Stephen is, it doesn’t seem fair to constantly relate him to his father whose shadow will never cease to dominate the reggae world. Stephen’s music is good and unique in it’s own way, but constantly holding him up to the standard of his father doesn’t seem to accomplish or help anyone. Regardless of his intro, Stephen took the stage to the screams of the entire hall.
He then proceeded into various album tracks, punctuated by fan favorites such as “No Cigarette Smoking (In My Room)” and a number of his father’s better known tunes. One of my personal favorites of these covers was a rousing version of a cut off the Uprising record “Work.” This was not a song I expected to hear stuck in amongst the more familiar “Buffalo Solider” and “Rebel Music” and it was an added treat. The band was tight as ever, with heavy bass lines and delicate guitar work. Marley soldiered on for a lengthy two hour set as the Lion of Judah flag hung above the crowd, covering all the hits the crowd expected to hear plus more. By the end, the sweating, but smiling crowd left the club with the sounds of reggae echoing in their ears and the desire for Stephen to return soon sitting in their hearts.
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