I confess I didn’t know much about Jimmy Cliff’s life or career going into Wednesday night’s gig at the legendary Troubador outside of the few cover songs that made their way into the American mainstream. By the time I left the packed to the gills, sweaty, pulsating, orgy of music this night I was fully aware I had just been in the presence of a living legend.
Jimmy Cliff, at the ripe young age of 64 years old can run laps around most, ok, any younger act you can think of. The man has the endurance of a 25 year old and a flawless set of booming tenor pipes. It’s hard to imagine that he has been doing this since the 1960’s and apparently is not missing a beat.
Word on the street was that Jimmy hadn’t toured in the U.S in ten years but I’d have to fact check that one. If so this was one momentous return. When I walked in at around 9:30 the house was aleady full and had to make due with a spot on the balcony shooting down on the stage and packed floor below.
He came onstage at promptly 10 p.m. as promised backed by a multi piece kick ass Ska band including a full horn section, back up singers, several percussionists and string players. I think I counted ten folks on stage in fairly tight quarters. The Troubador is the most intimate place in town and they treated us very well.
After the band came onto stage the toastmaster boomed the presence of the man the myth, and the icon of all things Ska and Reggae bounced onto the stage in colorful African and Jamaican regalia and ripped right into basically a straight up Ska set by starting where it all began covering a Prince Buster song to let the crowd know tonight was about first generation Ska.
In no particular order Cliff belted out the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” seizing on one of many protest songs throughout the night. I was fully expecting more of a laid back, hazy reggae smoky set. Not even close. This was full bore full throttle ska. If there had been more room to move, I surely would have busted out the white man ska dance. You’ve all seen it. The middle age guy reliving his youth in the 80’s skanking it up and making an ass out of himself on the dance floor and not really giving a…darn. Normally I’d be that guy, there just wasn’t space. But in my mind, I was doing it. So was everyone else. Well there was one guy doing it, and he was pissing lots of people off.
Cliff is promoting a new album that was produced here in LA called “One More Time” and there was a fair amount of material from the album that was all fantastic. Im buying the album. All of the classic covers were played including “Wild World” by “Cat Stevens” and “I Can See Clearly” by Johnny Nash. That one brought down the house. He closed with 3 encores which included the penultimate “The Harder They Come, The Harder They Fall’ from the film in which he starred.
Cliff is a national treasure in Jamaica and rightfully so. He hold’s the nation’s third highest honor, the medal of honour which he shares with but a few select people, one of which is NOT Bob Marley. The man just exudes joy optimisim peace and brotherhood. The world needs more of all of the above. The world needs more Jimmy Cliff. I was honored to be in the presence of greatness and I wished the set would have never end. It’s no mistake Jimmy Cliff was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. He belongs.
Tomorrow I am off to buy his new album….and everything he has ever recorded. It’s hard to find more talented guys than Mr. Cliff. I pray it’s not another ten years before he comes back. The one word all my buddies agreed on to describe the night; epic.
Thanks to the Troubador and Sam. Cheers!
Brian Michaels can be found on the web at:
Brianmichaelsphotography.com and www.socalcrimdefense.com iphoto