Bob Marley and The Wailers – Easy Skankin’ In Boston ’78 (Universal)
CD / DL
The master shows the pretenders how it’s really done. As part of the celebrations of what would have been Marley’s 70th birthday, a fitting live tribute to the Tuff Gong. Joe Whyte reviews.
Live albums are notoriously patchy affairs; more often than not a cobbled together collection to mark time while artists are in stasis, in the studio or having “musical differences”. Probably the only two that I have played more than once are The Ramones It’s Alive and Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous. And I’ve played them a lot.
Bob Marley has become more than an icon these days. One only has to look round any holiday resort tat-shop or smalltown market to see his face and the rasta colours emblazoned on everything from ashtrays to curtains. Marley’s image has become something of a touchstone for spotty suburban bus-stop youth and their hash-pipe rebellion. It’s not a bad thing by any means, but the legacy of this giant of music seems somewhat tarnished by association and that’s a shame.
As part of the celebrations for what would have been Marley’s 70th, this live album and DVD set is a beautifully packaged and tastefully chosen release. The live set from the Kaya tour (recorded in Boston at what most would agree was the pinnacle of his and the bands live power) is imperious. The Wailers are on a form that probably only Stevie Wonder’s band could have got near at this point in time. The band make it all sound too easy and they drive a powerhouse of subtlety and groove that would shame most. The rhythm section of brothers Aston and Carlton Barrett andAlvin Patterson are, of course, utterly mesmerising. They shuttle from snaking skank to shuddering thunder at what appears to be the flick of a finger. The ability to improvise the well-known songs is almost telepathic. Add to this Tyrone Downie’s chopping, glistening keyboard shimmers and Julian Marvin’s sun-kissed guitar lines and Marley’s songs take on a life and joy that the records somethimes struggled to capture.
Marley, of course, is commanding throughout. One senses that he completely lost himself in the music during a show and the spirituality of the man shines through. He says, as was his want, little throughout, but he doesn’t need to. One can visualise him tossing his dreads back off his face and doing that shuffling dance as he leads the band with little more than a glance or a nod.
The songs speak for themselves. It’s difficult to argue with Rebel Music, Get Up, Stand Up or Burnin’ And Lootin as classics of any genre, far less of reggae and the 13 songs herin are a masterclass in songwriting, musicianship and oddly enough, pop hooks. Marley rarely gets the credit for it, but dammit, he could craft a song with more hooks than velcro.
The DVD that’s packaged along with the album is incomplete as far as the set goes. There are only seven of the songs from the night and although shot on a slightly shaky hand-held camera, it’s a cracking insight into a band at the peak of their powers. There’s some animated stuff amongst it-the technology of the time meant that the cameraman had to hand-load each roll of film, consequently missing chunks of songs. It’s well-done, however, and it’s nice to see a proper period piece for the first time.
As mentioned at the start, live albums can be a bit, well, rubbish. This bucks the trend and then some.
Buy it. You’ll not be disappointed.
All words by Joe Whyte, find his Louder Than War archive here.