Strange how time passes so quickly. I was a 20 year old who bought Marley & the Wailers' Live! (at the Lyceum, London) as an import and practically wore the grooves off the thing. The legacy the Wailers built from the early '60s to their 1970s breakthrough to Marley's untimely death in 1981 is common knowledge, just short of a
cliche, these days. I probably had a handful of friends hip to the band before me;
even my late grandfathers would know about Bob & the Wailers by now.
I don't claim to know what happened to reggae after I started catching up with the older work of the Wailers, Toots & the Maytals, and naturally, I went to see "The Harder They Come" in the theater and bought the amazing soundtrack. It's my fault for not keeping up. I couldn't tell you the difference between Dancehall and Monty Hall. In recent years, when I hear reggae somewhere, the bass and drums sound pre-programmed. I'm in need of rhythmic texture that seems to have disappeared.
Which makes the the new release of the final Bob Marley & the Wailers concert, Live
Forever (Tuff Gong/Universal) such a joy. Of course, it's not going to match Live! or even Babylon By Bus for sheer energy and precision. Marley was in declining health, although few knew it.
I avoided listening to Live Forever for awhile, afraid of a letdown. But the recording of this final gig, at Pittsburgh's Stanley Theatre on September 23, 1980, captures the mastery of Bob and band in a way I didn't think was possible. Except for the last couple of tracks, the sound quality is excellent (evidently, the sound board tape ran out, so alternate sound sources had to be used toward the end). The Wailers are simply radiant, especially the rhythm section of brothers Aston "Family Man" Barrett on bass and drummer Carlton Barrett. Nothing pre-recorded here: Carlton's groove and always interesting accents are more than marvelous to hear. What a remarkable player.
Live Forever may be just a footnote in the Wailers' catalogue, because some of the
other stops along the way had more peaks and fire, but it's so worth having. I feel a bit younger just hearing it. As for Robert Nesta Marley--he would have been 66 last Sunday.