Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver BC, 9/26/17
Words: John Zee
Photos: David Dalley
For the record, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the one they call Jr. Gong aka Damian Marley a total of 5 times in my life so far. Ironically enough, three of those five times have been at the Commodore Ballroom, one of the most historically iconic live performance venues that Vancouver has to offer. I was present at the very first show Damian ever played in Vancouver in 2007 and traveled from Nanaimo, where I lived at the time, to see him. That show also took place at the Commodore and I believe I still have the photo from the disposable camera I had to prove it. I’ve been following the progression and development of Damian Marley for over a decade, and I’m happy to say that 10 years later the youngest song of Reggae legend Bob Marley has never once ceased to amaze me with his live performance and music.
On tour in support of his 5th studio album Stoney Hill, this album places Damian Marley at a point where he couldn’t sound more confident and genuinely connected to his true purpose on this planet. On this new record, he manages to bring forth that energy in unique and thought provoking ways by effortlessly dropping science on not only current events, but traditional teachings of the Rastafari religion and way of life.
The anticipation was real for a show that had been sold out for weeks in advance and you could feel the positive energy and vibes dripping from the Commodore ceilings and walls the minute you entered the venue. It was also impossible to avoid the rich and dank smell of sweet, sticky marijuana emanating from the lively, eclectic crowd. A crowd I might add that was as diverse as they come, full of young dancehall/hip hop fans, to staunch, committed Reggae aficionados and just plain old stoners. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the music enthusiasts that makes up a Damian Marley show.
Joined on stage by Jamaica’s Bebble Rockers band, Zilla (from his nick name Gong Zilla) kicked the show off by delivering the progressive and hip hop/skratch influenced “Here We Go” from his new joint Stoney Hill, following that came “More Justice” from his first ever album, the 2001 release Mr. Marley. Then they dived right into the dance floor heavy hits “Hey Girl” and “Beautiful” from his acclaimed Welcome To Jamrock album. Setting the tone and filling the room with sexy, reggae influenced vibes and riddims.
Damian knows how to perfectly introduce his new material in doses as to not steer the crowd too far away from the songs they are so familiar with. Quickly after dropping gems from Welcome To Jamrock, they were right back to the new album delivering such cuts as “Upholstery”, “Time Travel”, “Living It Up” and “Medication” featuring his brother Stephen Marley, which evoked everyone in the building to blaze up their joints causing a thick cloud of BC’s finest herbs to float above us.
One thing of many that Damian does well is take the time to pay homage to his father, who clearly paved the path for his rich influence and roots. Tribute songs such as “War”, “No More Trouble” and “Could You Be Loved” were done in such a way that made you feel like you were literally witnessing Bob Marley reincarnated.
Damian exited the stage to probably one of the most obvious encores I’ve ever seen, as he left us without delivering several key hits to the Vancouver crowd. After a feverish chant of Marley, Marley, Marley went on for well over several minutes, the band and Jr. Gong reemerged to the stage to deliver the culturally important and insightful songs “Patience” and “Road To Zion”, before leaving everyone with tribute-to-Jamaica smash hit, “Welcome To Jamrock”.
In closing, this concert resonated with me on a deeper level than most shows I’ve covered as of late. This is simply due to the fact that I’ve been following DM for over 12 years now and have not once been let down or disappointed by his live show. I think I speak for most when I say that I walked away that night feeling enriched, inspired and hopeful that we as a society and community can and will have to do better not only for ourselves, but most importantly for our future generations. One Love!