Ziggy Marley stirs it up for Royal Theatre audience

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A review by Mike Devlin for Victoria (Canada)’s Times Colonist.

What: Ziggy Marley
Where: Royal Theatre
When: Sunday
Rating: Four stars out of five

“Don’t let nobody stop us,” Ziggy Marley sang at one point on Sunday night, during his powerful performance at the Royal Theatre. “Free spirits have to soar.”

Marley, the eldest son of reggae pioneers Bob and Rita Marley, preached positivity during his 90-minute concert, but he also talked spirituality and politics. The 48-year-old covered all the bases, serving up sing-a-longs, hits and homeruns for the audience, who had plenty of reasons to dance on this night.

The feel of the concert was tentative at first, which had nothing to do with Marley: Signs posted inside the theatre warned patrons that dancing in the aisles would not be permitted, as per the fire department’s request. Theatre ushers did their best to contain the 1,000-person crowd, but that proved futile. Forty-five minutes into the show — during a version of the Bob Marley and the Wailers classic, Stir It Up, no less — the push and pull of those who wanted to sit and those who wanted to stand resolved itself, and the audience danced in unison for the remainder of the concert.

It would have been odd otherwise. Marley’s bouncy reggae music is made for movement.

The resident of Beverly Hills, Calif., and his eight-piece band — which included backup singers Tracy Hazzard and Kamaria Ousley, who were standouts — delivered a blazing-hot set at the same venue in 2013. This one didn’t scale the same heights, but it was hardly a disappointment. In fact, it was another full-spectrum performance from a reggae star who, it could be argued, warrants more respect than he receives.

It’s easy to write Marley off as a mere disciple of his father, given his reliance on songs by the Wailers. But his performance as part of the TD Victoria International Jazz Festival had its own merits. Wild and Free (with its refrain, “I see marijuana trees blowing in the breeze”), was especially good, thanks to an assist from his invaluable bassist, Paul Stennett. And Tomorrow People — his earliest hit — was also well received, generating a loud roar from the audience.

Marley mixed some salt with his sugar. “This is a cry for justice!” Marley said by way of an introduction to Justice, his 1990 song with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. As per custom during his concerts, Marley shifted the song at its mid-point into Get Up, Stand Up and War, a pair of similarly political songs by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

It was during these songs that Ziggy, whose dreadlocks reached to his knees, mirrored his father both in sound and visage.

“We’re celebrating an anniversary this year,” Marley said, pointing out that his father’s Exodus album turned 40 earlier this month. “We want to celebrate with you.”

And celebrate they did, delivering three of the album’s most enduring songs (Jamming, One Love and Exodus) in full flight during his encore.

Marley’s voice failed him on occasion, especially on Exodus, but his crackling energy provided more than enough compensation. He was constantly in motion, running, dancing and hopping for every second he was on stage, which is apparently a family trait. His sons Gideon and Abraham came on stage near the end and kept pace with their father (another son, one-year-old Isaiah, was standing on stage in the wings for the duration as well).

Marley’s concert, only his second in Victoria during his 32-year career, proved there is nothing like reggae music when it’s done well, especially during the summer months. Reggae lets people move about freely through dance. And everyone from infants to older folks bought into that philosophy Sunday night. It was something to see.

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