Jimmy Cliff @ The Mann Center.
It was a wonderful way to wrap up a long day of irie – he was the headliner of the Reggae in the Park festival – and it just got better. For his second song, Cliff performed a reggae version of Rancid’s classic “Ruby Soho” (Cliff covered the song on his 2011 album Sacred Fire).
Cliff seemed a bit hoarse but for a 64-year old who has been performing since before reggae actually originated, he was impressive. He sang, danced, plucked his guitar, banged a drum and revved up the crowd during a performance that became more and more energetic as the show progressed.
The only bad part was the crowd, which seemed subdued at the beginning of Cliff’s set. Most people sat in their seats even as Cliff bounced around the stage, kicking his gold shoes into the air.
When he played his 1964 ska classic “King of Kings,” he growled into the microphone and did some really awesome ska dancing (think: slow version of the mashed potatoes while moving sideways across the stage). His energy perked up the crowd, who rose to their feet and stayed there for the remainder of the set.
The left-handed Cliff played guitar for “Sitting in Limbo,” and he turned his anti-Vietnam war song into a riff against the war in Afghanistan.
Cliff and his nine-member band walked off the stage after about an hour of music and the crowd quickly began to disperse – even though Cliff had not yet played his biggest hit, “The Harder They Come.” It was disrespectful, really. Cliff is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He’s the only living musician holding the Jamaican title of Order of Merit. Calling him a legend is an understatement.
The band returned for a quick version of “One More,” and then left again. The small audience remaining cheered for more and Cliff obliged, playing his biggest hit for the final encore.
It was a classic performance by a consummate professional entertainer. He deserved a better audience. But the empty seats didn’t seem to bother Cliff at all.