BOB MARLEY: LIVE AT THE ROXY (1976/2003)
1) Introduction; 2) Trenchtown Rock; 3) Burnin' And Lootin'; 4) Them Belly Full (But We Hungry); 5) Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock); 6) I Shot The Sheriff; 7) Want More; 8) No Woman No Cry; 9) Lively Up Yourself; 10) Roots Rock Reggae; 11) Rat Race; 12) Positive Vibration; 13) Get Up, Stand Up/No More Trouble/War.
Although this performance, recorded at The Roxy in West Hollywood on May 26, 1976, had been widely bootlegged ever since its original radio broadcast, it was not until the release of the complete performance, together with its lengthy encore, in 2003 on Tuff Gong Records that it became sort of a consecrated Holy Grail for Marley fans, quite a few of whom now swear by it as the ultimate Marley live album, putting both Live! and Babylon By Bus to shame. This means that it at least merits a separate mention, if not necessarily a lengthy review.
The encore is actually the kernel of the legend: without it, the performance was already previously available as a bonus disc on the «deluxe» edition of Rastaman Vibration (yes, «grabbing for cash» is a practice not unfamiliar to people dealing with the legacy of the world's most famous Rastaman). It is a 24-minute non-stop medley of ʽGet Up, Stand Upʼ, ʽNo More Troubleʼ, and ʽWarʼ, one that not only confirms that most reggae songs can indeed be played to the exact same rhythm pattern without a single change (as if we didn't know!..) but also confirms that the Wailers were perfectly able to hold a steady, unnerving, unyielding, constantly energetic groove for as long as Jah was willing them to hold it. There are no build-ups, or climaxes, or gimmicks, or audience teasers — the team sounds pretty much the same at any given moment, but somehow, the performance does not ever get boring or really feel like 24 minutes, probably because of Bob's ability to hold the listener's interest by merging three songs into one and making it look as if he is slowly building up to the «vocal climax» of ʽWarʼ, and then gradually taking us back down through the same stages.
Other than that, Live At The Roxy is perfectly solid, but I could not confirm that the quality of the performance definitively «trumps» the rest of Bob's live catalog or anything. For one thing, Earl ʽChinnaʼ Smith on lead guitar is a decent player, but too humble for an arena performance: Julian Marvin's arrival in 1977 would change things significantly, adding more lyrical individuality to the music, whereas Live At The Roxy is really all about the collective groove, and there is nothing wrong with that, but maybe not for 86 minutes. For another thing, this is already Bob Marley in his «mission» era, where there is a constant danger of putting more emphasis on the «message» than the «music» — on a purely technical level, there is no accusation that could be justified against the band's playing, but instinctively, I still prefer the live band on the 1973-74 recordings, prior to the departure of Tosh and Bunny Wailer.
That said, if you belly hungry for another Marley live album, and "now you get what you want, do you want more?", that kind of thing, Live At The Roxy is indispensable. One major argument in its support is the excellent sound quality — although all of Bob's live albums were recorded indoors, The Roxy must have had the best acoustics of 'em all, so that you really get to hear all the musicians close-up and uninhibited by the audience or by empty space, almost as intimately as if they'd been recording in a radio studio. Plus, I think this one has the only live version of ʽWant Moreʼ to be released on an official album — a fine, tense, desperate song to be played live and really get the juices flowing, somehow overlooked elsewhere. Probably I could scramble together a few other minor arguments as well, but on the whole, such things should rather be left to seasoned Marley veterans, so I will just say goodbye here with a conventional thumbs up.