Is there any proposition more hit or miss than a live record? For example, what is it about John Tesh that made him decide to release a collection of live, bowling alley quality rock tunes played to what sounds like a sparse audience of whistling blue jays? The caveats to unloading a live record are obvious: aural studio intricacies could be lost, any lapses in talent could be exposed and the audience might sound underwhelmed. Then, of course, there’s always the criticism that live records are lazy attempts at cashing in. Popular music culture in the 1970’s, however, demanded that a group define themselves on stage. It’s within this climate therefore that reggae music rose to mass popularity with Bob Marley and the Wailers’ July 1975 concerts at London’s Lyceum Ballroom.
The live record, a product of two nights, was part of a tour in support of their latest studio release at the time, Natty Dread. That album, the first to punctuate Marley’s emergence from the Wailers, found new white hipster audiences in addition to the Jamaican ones who’d been versed in reggae and its ideological father, Rasta, for some time. To no surprise the London concerts sold out in a fistful of hours and police had to bar thousands of ticket-less fans from the streets and sidewalks during the performances. Those who came through the gates unscathed however were treated to a unifying celebration of music and ideas. Therefore, it’s fitting that, when Marley first greets the microphone, he sing the words “One good thing about music/ when it hits you feel no pain,” in the opening verse of “Trenchtown Rock.” Along with a glorious female backing chorus and the Wailers characteristic afro-reggae rhythms, the group absorbed every drop of energy from their music and the loving audience to create this defining live record.
Bob Marley, like so few artists, had the ability to describe the plight of his heritage and his people in the Kingston ghettos, while simultaneously convincing listeners that eternal hope still existed for them. Undoubtedly, he accomplished this through a supreme spiritual adherence to Rastafarianism. These notions, both heard and implied, are aptly expressed in his studio recordings, but in the live setting they’re nothing short of illuminating. The audiences’ howls of joy and willingness to sing along to every word gives this record the ambiance of roaring gospel. By the time the jaunty opening lick to “Lively Up Yourself” begins, the audience and the band seem, together, to reach such an elevated place that there’s nothing left to do but celebrate.
These London concerts were a revelation to the otherwise reggae-ignorant public. It served as the flashpoint for the Two-Tone movement from which British and American ska emerged. More importantly, however, this recording documents Marley’s transcendence from a beloved son of Jamaica to one of the most enlightened musicians this world has known.
1. Trenchtown Rock
2. Burning and Looting
3. Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)
4. No Woman No Cry
5. Lively Up Yourself
6. I Shot the Sheriff
7. Get Up Stand Up
8. Kinky Reggae (reissue)