September 6, 1999|
House of Blues - Chicago, IL
Going to a Melody Makers show is never really like going to a concert but more like welcoming a good friend home from a long trip or going to see a buddy between semester break. To fans, the question is never "Are you going to the Melody Makers concert?" But more like, "Do you need a ride to the show?"
Marley played a mash up set to Chicago fans at the House of Blues on the band's second trip here in just two months. Apparently the response was so good that promoters decided to bring the Melody Makers and Ghetto Youth Crew back to Chicago for a return performance closing out the band's Spirit of Music Tour.
The show started promptly with an opening performance by the Ghetto Youth Crew, headed by Stephen Marley of the Melody Makers. GYC consists of two other Marley sons, Julian and Damien along with a group of talented lyricists whose show is as good, if not better, than today's top Hip Hop acts like Nas, Jay-Zee, DMX, and Outkast. Not once did we hear, "Lemme hear you say Ho-ooo!, Lemme hear you say Ho Ho! Now Somebody...!"
The only question here is, when is their CD coming out? The show's standout cut is "U Nah Mean?" where the audience jumps so feverishly that you can't help but to join in to avoid being left behind. Stephen allows those who need it to catch their breath by leading the audience in singing a Bob Marley favorite, "Kaya" of which the crowd sings every word. "Got to Have Kaya now!" The house chants. "I believe ya!" he shouts back.
Between sets, I am trying desperately to hold on to my second row center spot, when a small, middle aged African-American woman about 4'11", 96 lbs. squeezes in front of me. Seeing my expression of resistance she explains, "Listen Sister, I think more Black folks should be standing up here getting this knowledge, you know? I mean, I'm a mother of four with very little money and I don't go to concerts and I don't buy records, except for Ziggy's. I saved my money to be here and I want to be as close as I can to these brothers," she states adamantly. "I just had Stephen to sign this autograph, see?" She pulls out a Chicago Black weekly newspaper with a picture of Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of Emmett Till, a young Black boy murdered during the Civil Rights era on the cover. There I see Stephen's signature scrawled out over the entire paper, "Rasta, One Love." "Come on Sister, why don't you move on up to the stage so that you don't get squashed," I concede, letting her through. Just then, I hear a couple of rhythms from the base guitar, the curtains open, and Ziggy slowly steps up to the stage singing the intro, "Irie" moving the audience into a steady groove in true Rudie style.
The set was similar to the July performances opening with "Beautiful Day", "Natural Mystic", "Jah Bless", "Postman", and "Free Like You Want 2 Be". Ironically, right after a House of Blues security guard made some young people put out their spliffs, Stephen checks the scene and begins to sing what else, "One Good Spliff" again getting the crowd to sing the song in unison. Ziggy steps back up to the front and taking off his guitar, he tells the audience, "Ya know I'm feeling high right now," the audience laughs. "It's true," he reaffirms. "But I think I wanna take ya higher!" At once the band flows into "Higher Vibration."
If you ever want to know what real show business is like, this is it. In a time where live bands are passé, yet digital sampling, hyped-up show antics and silly gimmicks are dominant, a Ziggy Marley concert is like food for the mind and soul. It's true artistry to see a man stand in front of thousands of people, armed only with his instrument and raw talent, keep an audience totally entertained, glued to every note and move he makes for as long as he wishes.
Old Marley fans got a treat as the band performed a powerful version of "I Shot the Sheriff" a first for Chicago audiences. One thing that was obvious though, Ziggy was really in the "flow" that night. He was very interactive with the crowd, dancing much more than usual, even playing around with his sisters and the band at times. During a rousing rendition of "All Day, All Night", he would walk up behind Cedella and Erica, sort of hiding himself and then spring up to their mike to join in the chorus, startling them. Later in the show, Ziggy takes Cedella by the hands twirling and spinning her around, she lets him go as he tries to grab her face with both hands. Slightly avoiding him, she shakes her head at her brother, playfully annoyed, giving you the feeling of family fun in the old days at 56 Hope Road.
During a hyped up version of "Jamming" Stephen Marley and legendary stringman, Earl "Chinna" Smith engage in a guitar face off. Chinna tears into some wicked vibrations getting the crowd to scream his name, while Stephen feeling the vibe, answers by scratching up some mean riffs. Cedella dances in between the two inviting her younger brother to kick up the vibe. And after a moment of fiery exchange between the two, Chinna gives a nod to Stephen who blasts off some notes only Jimmi Hendrix could hear, sending the audience into a frenzy.
After a short break, they return for an encore and deliver what I think was the heart of the entire show. Ziggy leads the band into "Black My Story" a profound tribute to the land and people of Africa. Toward the end of the song, Ziggy falls into a trance repeating several times rising that powerful voice, "Ya know, those inventions known to man, they come from Africa! They were stolen from Africa!" The small woman in front of him jumps up and down as if she were in a church service. "Teach, Ziggy, teach!!!" she screams. He repeats it for the last time, I think just for her. Too much emotion, my eyes begin to swell with tears.
The finale was not the traditional dance set of "Could You Be Loved", however keeping with the momentum, "Africa Unite" closed out the evening and tour. It makes you wonder, maybe even whisper out loud, what was Ziggy feeling tonight. Whatever it was, he made it clear, he wanted us to experience it. We did.