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.

25 of the best cover songs ever

It’s pretty hard to proclaim the best cover songs of all time — there have been so many great covers performed in the studio and in a live environment. So that’s why we’re framing this as “25 of the Best Cover Songs Ever”. This list is not as hyperbolic as we prefer to be, but our top 10 is pretty damn solid.

Some prescribe to the theory that a cover song has to be better than the original to be great, or considered one of the the best. I don’t believe this to be true. There are cases in this list where the cover song does not surpass the original in greatness (see #25 for example). But if a cover song attempts to be different and successfully recreates a track to make it original and timeless in its own way, credit should be granted.

What did we miss? Leave us a comment with a YouTube link.

25. Chromatics – “Into the Black”
Originally by Neil Young

24. Guns N’ Roses – “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
Originally by Bob Dylan

23. Bob Dylan – “Train of Love”
Originally by Johnny Cash

22. Johnny Cash – “I’m on Fire”
Originally by Bruce Springsteen

21. Bruce Springsteen – “Trapped”
Originally by Jimmy Cliff

20. Birdy – “Skinny Love”
Originally by Bon Iver

19. Sublime (featuring Alex Grenwald) – “Scarlet Begonias”
Originally by the Grateful Dead

18. Grateful Dead – “Morning Dew”
Originally by Bonnie Dobson

17. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant – “Trampled Rose”
Originally by Tom Waits

16. Santana – “Black Magic Woman”
Originally by Fleetwood Mac

15. Sharon Jones – “It’s a Man’s World”
Originally by James Brown

14. Radiohead – “The Headmaster Ritual”
Originally by The Smiths

13. Eric Clapton – “Coccaine”
Originally by JJ Cale

12. Tina & Ike Turner – “Proud Mary”
Originally by Creedence Clearwater Revival

11. Creedence Clearwater Revival – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
Originally by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

10. The White Stripes – “Jolene”
Originally by Dolly Parton

9. Joe Cocker – “With a Little Help from My Friends”
Originally by The Beatles

8. The Beatles – “Twist & Shout”
Originally by The Top Notes, made famous by The Isley Brothers

7. Nirvana – “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”
Traditional song; arranged by Lead Belly

6. Janis Joplin – “Me and Bobby McGee”
Originally by Kris Kristofferson

5. Phish – “Remain in Light” LP in it’s entirety
Originally by Talking Heads

4. Talking Heads – “Take Me to the River”
Originally by Al Green

3. Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
Originally by Otis Redding.

2. Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
Originally by Bob Dylan.

1. Johnny Cash – Hurt
Originally by Nine Inch Nails.