Like popular music artists such as John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and Tupac Shakur, Bob Marley experienced infinitely more popularity since his death. And out of all four of them, Marley’s legacy may have the heaviest burden. After all, none of the others are actually synonymous with an entire musical genre.
Simply put, for many of the world’s music fans, Bob Marley IS reggae. “Bob Marley / poet and a prophet,” Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers sang ten years after Marley’s death in their hit “Give It Away.” This may be going a little overboard, but make no mistake: Marley was an incredible performer and a revolutionary songwriter.
Sanctuary Visual Entertainment (BMG), in conjunction with classic reggae label Trojan, has just released a fine live portrayal of the poet/prophet himself with “Bob Marley: The Legend Live.” Taken from a late afternoon concert at The Santa Barbara County Bowl on November 25, 1979, this concert came years after his innovative work with Lee Perry as well as the demise of the classic Wailers line-up, but Marley was hardly coasting at this point. He had just released “Survival,” an album that was a startling meditation on problems plaguing the Rastafarian and general communities at large – not to mention an album devoid of any obvious “singles” whatsoever.
The DVD release returns the concert to its original complete state, adding an additional seven songs that were excised from the VHS release, and saving one for a bonus track (“War / No More Trouble,” in which the camera person was obviously busy smoking a joint or something). The sound quality of the show is excellent, and Marley and his band are in top form, playing a little of everything from Marley’s fantastic song catalog.
The focus of the documentary, as well as the staging, is on Marley. And with good reason: it’s clearly his show. Neither guitarists Junior Marvin and Al Anderson, both of whom offer blistering guitar solos more suited to early Funkadelic, nor the giant posters of Rastafarian forefathers Marcus Garvey or Haile Selassie, can detract from Marley’s overwhelming stage presence, a presence that makes even the audience seem somewhat insignificant in comparison.
It is mentioned in the liner notes how the tour this show was taken from was an attempt to attract more of an African-American audience to Marley’s music. However, this particular show gives no evidence of this, as most of the crowd shots are of dorky white guys dancing. But while the camera is on Marley, as it generally is, it is a stellar and occasionally moving document of the ultimate reggae legend only a year-and-a-half before his premature death from cancer.
A bonus documentary on the DVD release, “Prophecies and Messages,” is quick to treat Marley’s prophet status as a given. Intercutting footage of the Santa Barbara concert, and mixing articulate but inaudible interview footage and intense Masterpiece Theatre-style narration, the result comes off like an introduction to Rastafarianism one would find airing on the A&E network. Though somewhat illuminating in terms of providing a spiritual and historical framework for Marley’s music, the documentary is hardly essential viewing for fans, or at least anyone who has already sat through the feature presentation.
The other major bonus feature, a short clip of interviews of fans taken prior to a subsequent L.A. concert (a benefit for the Sugar Ray Robinson Foundation), is worth five minutes of your time, if only for Marley historian Chris Salewicz’s comment on how Marley’s fan base was, “a United Nations mix of fans – black, white, Japanese, people who look like Rod Stewart…