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Freedom Leaf Review: Bob Marley and the Wailers’ «Live! (Deluxe Edition)»

Bob Marley

Marking 41 years since Bob Marley and the Wailers’ historic two-night stint at London’s Lyceum Theatre on July 17 and 18, 1975, Universal Music has repackaged the original seven-song Live! album both digitally and as a three-LP vinyl set, adding 14 previously unreleased tracks and several full-length versions of previously abbreviated cuts to this Live! (Deluxe Edition).

Under the direction of Island Records President Chris Blackwell, Danny Holloway recorded both shows using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. While the original release only included songs from the second night’s show, this deluxe edition includes, for the first time, opening-night performances.

Live!, which was rush-released in December 1975, offered a bridge between 1974’s Natty Dread and 1976’s Rastaman Vibration, which marked Marley’s Stateside breakthrough. Thanks to Eric Clapton’s hit cover of “I Shot the Sheriff,” Marley had been steadily gaining commercial traction, especially in the U.K., and this brief British tour (which included subsequent dates in Birmingham and Manchester) followed an attention-getting five-night stint earlier in July at L.A.’s Roxy Theater.

With the breakup of the seminal Wailers band following the exit of co-founders Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston, Marley retained the core of the group—bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett, his brother, drummer Carlton Barrett, New Jersey-born guitarist Al Anderson, keyboardist Tyrone Downie and percussionist Alvin “Seeco” Patterson—and added the I-Threes—Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths—as backup vocalists.

Starting with “Trenchtown Rock,” Marley charges through a set of fiery revolutionary politics (“Burnin’ and Lootin’,” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” “Slave Driver,” “Get Up, Stand Up”), ardent love songs (“Stir It Up,” “No Woman No Cry”) and righteous paeans to Rastafarianism (“Natty Dread,” “Kinky Reggae”) on this expanded release.

Of the second show, NME rock critic Charles Shaar Murray wrote: “It opened with an incandescent burst of pure energy, at once quintessentially laid-back and vibrating with intensity, a rhythm that holds you tight while still allowing room to move. While rock lays its beat on you, the Wailers’ music allows you to find your own rhythm within it.”

The new Live! offers a more unified overview of that experience, from the moment Marley begins singing “Trenchtown Rock”: “One good thing about music/ When it hits/You feel no pain.” Indeed, Marley and the Wailers wrap their political agenda in seductive beats that mirrored the atmosphere of Jamaica: exotic and dangerous, alluring yet violent.

It’s abundantly clear that Marley had a mesmerizing hold on the audience, and the music stands out, even apart from the mythos. Anderson’s chunky wah-wah guitar on “Them Belly Full” and on the previously unreleased “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock)”; Tyrone Downie’s funky pre-electro keyboard riffs on “Stir It Up”; the interplay between the Barrett brothers; and the intense call-and-response between Marley, who shouts out “Jah,” and the I-Threes, chanting “Rastafari,” all combine to create classic cuts.

A revelation of this updated set is the unedited version of “Lively Up Yourself”—nearly three minutes longer than the album version on Natty Dread—that Murray called “so powerful that it made the recorded version seem positively Mickey Mouse by comparison”; it closes with Marley crying out, “Rastafari, almighty God!”

The first night’s previously unreleased recordings include “I Shot the Sheriff” and the 10-minute closer, “Get Up, Stand Up,” which concludes with Marley repeating the phrase, “Excuse me while I light my spliff,” before the show MC declares them “musical prophets from Jamaica.”

The original release contained the definitive version of “No Woman, No Cry,” Bob Marley and the Wailers’ first U.K. hit single (with “Kinky Reggae” on the B-side). This deluxe set contains both that version and the first night’s which might even be better.

This extended version of Live! does an excellent job of joining the performances into a cohesive whole, showcasing the moment that the band was poised to achieve cult status and the top-10 U.S. success of Rastaman Vibration. Live! would peak at No. 90 on the Billboard Top 100.

“We captured the band at the peak of their powers with a set list that held absolutely no low point,” the BBC’s Chris Jones wrote about Live! in 2009. “This was a Wailers that could more than handle the lusher, fuller rock reggae that transformed Marley’s Rastaman diatribes into pop gold. No one before this had combined both roots and R&B in this way… uniting both working and middle classes with his songs of universal struggle and religious metaphor.”

On “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” Marley asks: “How many rivers do we have to cross/Before we can talk to the boss?” On this expanded version of the seminal Live!, we meet the boss and his band as they are about to take off.

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