BOB MARLEY: LIVE! (1975)
1) Trenchtown Rock; 2) Burnin' And Lootin'; 3) Them Belly Full (But We Hungry); 4) Lively Up Yourself; 5) No Woman, No Cry; 6) I Shot The Sheriff; 7) Get Up, Stand Up; 8*) Kinky Reggae.
To have witnessed an actual show put on by Bob Marley & The Wailers is usually considered as one of the luckiest possible things that could have happened to a human being. The presence, the vibe, the energy, the brotherly love, the dance, the groove, the inspiration, do I even have to go on with this list? Naturally, one could try to be cynical about it, insist that it was all really just show business (to a certain extent, it certainly was), bring out the old argument that «when the Wailers lost Peter Tosh, they really lost it all», but nobody could deny the primal effect that Marley had on his audience. He was a Jamaican witch doctor (a benevolent one, lucky for us all), and his audience were his willing and obedient patients. It was as simple as that.
However, I am not nearly as sure as the majority that this whole vibe was so easily captured on record. All hype and rave aside, the Wailers' first album, recorded at the Lyceum Theatre in London, July 19, 1975, is an excellent performance, but the sound does not really easily provide the impression of the pastor and his church joining as one into a single, focused, star-bound spiritual wave of energy. The Wailers are doing their thang, the people are listening and frequently going wooooh! (most importantly, at the beginning of ʽNo Womanʼ), but it's not as if being in the presence of his flock pushes Bob to any extra heights that have not already been reached in the studio, nor does the flock itself seem to inspire any additional emotions. Perhaps it is simply one of these «you had to be there» moments.
Anyway, formally speaking, there is no complaining, because the songs are so great, and performed with a fine mix of spirit and discipline. At the very least, there are enough tweaks in the arrangements to warrant an additional listen: ʽNo Woman, No Cryʼ is taken at a slower, softer tempo, and Al Anderson adds his lead guitar lines everywhere where he wasn't able to earlier (ʽBurnin' And Lootin'ʼ, ʽI Shot The Sheriffʼ, etc.). The biggest tweak is added to ʽGet Up, Stand Upʼ which, as it winds down to its conclusion, is expanded with a different groove, including a call-and-answer session with the audience — and, believe it or not, a bass riff that seems to have been borrowed right from John Lennon's ʽHow Do You Sleepʼ (coincidence, probably, but after the naggin' question of «where the hell did I hear that before?» had pestered me for several days, once the answer finally came, there was no way I could leave it out of the review).
Come to think of it, the way the audience swoons in tact with Marley's "everything's gonna be alright" on ʽNo Womanʼ, or his ee-yo-yo's on ʽGet Up, Stand Upʼ, the album does show some glimpses of the shepherd and the flock becoming one — in that respect, it's got plenty of historical importance, demonstrating the Western world's, or at least, part of the Western world's recognition of dreads, reggae, Rastafari values, and the poor black man's struggle for peace, freedom, and happiness in a thoroughly unjust universe. But outside of that context, «live reggae» is not a huge improvement over «studio reggae» if both are done reasonably well. I admire the vibe (as long as, as it happens with any religion, I do not have to focus too much on its external paraphernalia), but I see no reason to prefer these versions to their studio counterparts — not even the famous live rendition of ʽNo Woman No Cryʼ, because I really have no use for it as a stadium anthem and prefer to hear it in a far more natural, intimate setting. I mean, it's a dialog between Bob and his woman, for Chrissake. Why do we need several thousand mouths singing along to it in unison? Beats me.
On a technical note — curiously, the original LP was only 37 minutes long; plans for an expanded deluxe edition still have not come to fruition (not that it is particularly important, considering the overall wealth of live Marley material already on the market). The remastered CD version does add ʽKinky Reggaeʼ as a bonus track, used for Bob as a setting to introduce his «brothers» and «sisters», but otherwise, fairly true to the original.