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Reggae hero Jimmy Cliff delivers 2013's top club show at First Avenue

Posted by: Jon Bream under Music Updated: September 20, 2013 - 2:58 AM

Jimmy Cliff earlier this month/ Associated Press photo by John Davisson

Think of it as a tale of two histories.

In concert Wednesday, the Eagles, whom we first met in 1972, presented their history at Target Center.

In concert Thursday, Jimmy Cliff, whom we first discovered in 1973, presented his history at First Avenue.

These two retrospectives, presented at the same Minneapolis intersection of 1st Av and 7th St, were as different as the music of these two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acts.

The most significant difference, though, is that Cliff, 65, clearly was having fun and it was impossible to tell if any of the Eagles, ages 64 to 66, other than Joe Walsh, was enjoying himself in concert.

Cliff’s performance was versatilely soulful, consistently infectious and unquestionably triumphant – one of the best Twin Cities club shows of 2013.

For 130 minutes, Cliff traced his history, from Jamaica to the U.K. to Brazil to the States. He introduced nearly every song with a backstory about either his life or the recording. Like how he cut a song by a guy named Steve that Island Records gave to him. That guy was Cat Stevens and the tune was “Wild World.”

Cliff took the packed club through different strains of reggae, including ska and rock steady. He took fans to his role as a talent scout by playing songs he auditioned for Bob Marley and Desmond Dekker. He took the fans to his movies, “Cool Runnings” and, most importantly, “The Harder They Come,” the vehicle by which most of the world discovered Cliff – and reggae – in 1973. He mixed in a little peacenik politics, too, without getting preachy.

Cliff’s voice remains sweet, soulful and powerful (he can wail). His performing style was nimble, energetic and exhilarating, with struts, kicks, jumps, duck walking, running in place and other exciting moves.

He delivered his simple sound with only his guitar, accompanied by a keyboardist, bassist, drummer, trumpeter and female backup singer. He clearly enjoyed having the enthusiastic crowd sing-along, letting them handle the choruses on a few of his better known numbers.

Highlights were many:  “World Upside Down” with Cliff’s intense testifying at song’s end; the deeply soulful and spiritual ballad “Many Rivers To Cross”; the celebrative “The Harder They Come”; the uplifting “I Can See Clearly Now”; the invigorating and determined “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” the cool “Johnny Too Bad,” and the intense, dense, modern dance-floor workout “One More” from his current “Rebirth” album.

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