Jimmy Cliff delivers positive vibes to sold-out Fillmore

Jimmy CliffPhotos by Pedro Paredes // Written by Molly Kish

Jimmy Cliff //
The Fillmore – San Francisco
July 19th, 2014 //

Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff took the stage at The Fillmore this past weekend as vibrant as ever. Filling the sold-out auditorium with an ocean of positivity, he treated the eclectic crowd to a first-person account of roots-rock history and a career-spanning setlist from his 50-plus years as a musical icon.

Joyfully skipping out onto the stage to start his set, Cliff exuded the youthful enthusiasm of a performer more than half his age. The 66-year-old performer’s energy was infectiously transmitted as the crowd welcomed him with uproarious cheers and applause. Positioning himself in the center of the stage and straddling a larger-than-life bongo while being surrounded by his entourage of band members and backup vocalists, Cliff broke out directly into an acoustic medley of “Bongo Man/Rivers of Babylon”. Instigating almost an immediate venue-wide singalong, he quickly set the tone for the crowd’s participatory expectations the rest of the evening.

Jimmy Cliff

High off the euphoric stage presence of Cliff with a thickening haze floating through the legendary theater, the crowd wholeheartedly jumped right into the spirit of the evening’s comprehensive setlist. Taking things up a notch, Cliff decided after his acoustic opener to delve straight into back-to-back hits “King of Kings” and “Miss Jamaica” from his early days as a ska pioneer. Abandoning diffidence and collective lack thereof rhythm, the packed auditorium put forth its best effort to “skank” along with the reggae legend as he and his animated backup singers demonstrated various moves from the Jamaican dancehall era step by step. Sloppy attempts gave way to slippery floors, which were used to slide around in unison as attendees recoiled back into simply belting out lyrics at the top of their lungs during an ecstatic rendition of “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and Cliff’s well-known cover of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World”.

The most notable moments of the performance happened when Cliff lent some personal history to the material he chose to play that evening. About halfway through the set, he started taking extra time before each song to fill the audience in on the composition’s relevance — not only his career as a musician, producer and political figure, but also to give background on the time and place it was written, the social commentary it provided and its relevance to pop culture. Performing an updated version of his 1968 protest song “Vietnam”, Cliff delivered a powerful rendition aptly titled “Afghanistan”, replacing the original lyrics with commentary relevant to the modern-day state of affairs in the Middle East.

Jimmy Cliff

Cliff also took some time to offer a little insight on his experience outside of his personal recording efforts, stating that he had quite the legacy “breaking in new artists”. It was during this time that Cliff segued into a portion of the evening’s performance where he literally shifted the concert into a mini “storytellers” set, playing snippets of hits from Desmond Decker, Bob Marley, Johnny Nash and Sam Cooke that he either had a part in producing, writing or promoting. Aware of his latest artistic courtship with Bay Area native and Rancid singer/guitarist Tim Armstrong, I couldn’t help but hold my breath for a possible dream collaboration live on stage to cap off this section of the show. Instead though, Cliff brought it on home with staples like “The Harder They Come” and “I Can See Clearly Now”, followed by a crowd singalong to “One More” off of Rebirth, his 2011 full-length collaboration with Armstrong.

In true superstar fashion, Cliff remained side stage, post set reveling in the crowd’s unrelenting chanting. After merely a few minutes of down time, he returned to perform not one, but two separate encores on this night. With exit music softly cooing through the speakers and the house lights at a dim, the crowd only partially dispersed with over half of the venue still hoping that Cliff would have more after nearly playing for 2 1/2 hours — and he didn’t let them down. Taking the stage for the final time, Cliff ended the evening with a rousing rendition of “Wonderful World, Beautiful People”, introducing his band one by one before saying his final goodbye to us.


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