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Jimmy Cliff at Rams Head on Stage
Rams Head on Stage
It began as a night of contrasts at Rams Head on Stage. The venue is located in Maryland’s capital city, which is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and a far cry from the Jamaican mountains where Cliff grew up. The small, sitting-room only venue also wasn’t ideal for dancing, which seemingly runs counter to what one expects at a Jimmy Cliff show. However, as it turned out, the intimate atmosphere served as the perfect vessel for Cliff and his band to showcase their music and lyrical messages. At 64, songs Cliff has been singing for four decades rang true today, and the reggae legend even updated some of his lyrics.
The show started off on the lighter side with “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Treat the Youths Right.” It was immediately evident that Cliff’s voice had not waned over the years, and the reggae legend danced around stage like it was still the 1970s.
After playing the Cat Stevens classic “Wild World,” Cliff sang Rancid hit “Ruby Soho.” Although Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, who produced and performed on 2011’s Sacred Fire EP, wasn’t at the show, the reggae-fied punk song fit right in with Cliff’s reggae staples.
With the audience captivated, Cliff dove into some heavier lyrical subjects with “Save Our Planet Earth” and “Vietnam,” although the latter was changed to “Afghanistan.” With the change in geography, and the word ‘letter’ changed to ‘email,’ Cliff’s anti-war anthem tackled losing a loved one in war with the same poignancy as it did in 1969.
Cliff grabbed his guitar for “Sitting in Limbo,” which gave both of his backup singers a chance to sing lead during the verses. After “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah,” the band went into Johnny Nash classic “I Can See Clearly Now.” Although the audience had been in listening mode up to that point, the song became a rousing sing-along.
At the behest of the band, the audience stood up, finally able to dance for “Reggae Night.” The set ended with a percussive version of “Rivers of Babylon” which had Cliff joined by most of his band members on Niyahinghi drums. These drumbeats, from the oldest branch of the Rasta movement, are reggae’s rhythmic ancestors, and served as the only musical accompaniment to this choral rendition of the reggae standard.
The encore started, appropriately, with Cliff’s new single, “One More.” As the audience sang the song’s chorus of ‘one more,’ Cliff left the stage not once, but twice before tearing up a triumphant version of “The Harder They Come.”
But that wasn’t enough for the audience, as the chorus of ‘one more’ rang out once again. Cliff took the stage one last time to play two more gems, “Many Rivers to Cross” and “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” ending the show on a high and happy note.
At 64 years old, with a new album coming out this month, Cliff has outlived many of his contemporaries, and shows no signs of slowing down.
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