Jimmy Cliff at First Avenue 9/19/13

Jimmy Cliff at First Avenue 9/19/13
Photo by Erik Hess

Jimmy Cliff
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Thursday, September 19, 2013

The legendary Jimmy Cliff made a most triumphant return after 25 years to the First Avenue stage last night. It a late-summer evening filled with joy, incredible music and a thorough history as he told the story of Jamaican music and his own career. Credited as one of the chief architects of reggae music, Cliff and his band electrified the jubilant crowd with hit after hit of his own songs along with samplings of hallmark Jamaican anthems creating massive amounts of positive energy with each sing-along.

See Also: Slideshow: Jimmy Cliff at First Avenue, 9/19/13

"Are you ready for the Bongo Man?!" Cliff's bandmates asked, egging the audience on for the beginning of an exhaustive two-hour set. Cliff started things off with true Jamaican roots music and a slow, steady groove that invoked the Nyahbinghi rhythms and chants that carried on with a breath and overwhelming emotion. Flanked by his band all playing drums Cliff shuffled his way toward his own djembe and led the audience through a medley of "Bongo Man" and an extended version of the Meditations "Rivers of Babylon" that had Cliff urging the audience to chant the chorus with uplifting results.

"Sing along for Jamaica! Sing along for Minnesota. Sing along for Kingston. Sing along for Saint Paul and Minneapolis!" Cliff commanded the packed full First Avenue making it feel like a gospel revival of sorts.

Jimmy Cliff at First Avenue 9/19/13
Jimmy Cliff at First Avenue 9/19/13
Photos by Erik Hess

In a pink hat and Jamaican colors striped across his satin jumpsuit Cliff began the story of Jamaican music in a raspy voice as he introduced each song. Miraculously, Cliff at 65 maintained his singing voice, and never let up as he belted out "Hard Road to Travel" from his 1969 self-titled record that functioned in getting the audience moving to its rock steady rhythm. Working as a theme of sorts for the night Cliff discussed the historic part of the music that centered around Jamaican independence and the big influence the era's ska music had on him as a singer as he rewound the clock with one of his earliest singles, the Leslie Kong produced "King of Kings" and "Miss Jamaica", both from 1962. Demonstrating the traditional Jamaican ska, Cliff evoked the youthful spirit of the songs.

"They say Adam came before Eve. I beg to differ. How could that be? Man comes from woman. After her comes he. Woman is divine and the root of creation," he praised to roaring applause from the ladies in the crowd as the band kicked in with a fervent bounce for "Roots Woman."

Returning to his career Cliff told the story of hearing the next song in the studio as a song its original singer, Cat Stevens, wasn't totally pleased with. "Well, I would love to do that song!" Cliff explained as "Wild World" rallied the biggest heartfelt sing along at this point. The energy was breathtaking with the entire room belting out each chorus with massive waves of cheers and swaying hands up in the air.


With that Jimmy Cliff had truly primed the canvas for hit after hit from his catalog of classic reggae tunes for everyone to share the energy of the music with "Wonderful World, Beautiful People," his updated version of "Vietnam" changed to "Afghanistan" that showed his anti-war notoriety and kept everyone skanking, moving and grooving and again singing along.

Delving back into the story of Jamaican music Cliff remarked that not only is he a singer/songwriter and actor, "But always, I have been a door-opener."

Explaining his connections with other progenators of the music Cliff ran through a series of Jamaican music's early roots tunes that included Bob Marley's "Judge Not," Desmond Dekker's "Honor Your Mother and Father" and some of his own influences that included Sam Cooke's "Cupid" and Ken Boothe's "Puppet on A String".

Jimmy Cliff at First Avenue 9/19/13
Jimmy Cliff at First Avenue 9/19/13
Photos by Erik Hess

After several workouts of high-energy music, eventually Cliff and the band would bring things down to a simmer. He reached into the songs he's most known for from The Harder They Come soundtrack with an amazing version of "Many Rivers to Cross" that showed the soulful spirit of his voice that held the audience in awe.

"This next song helped get the latest Prime Minister of the U.K. elected. But for me the best story was a woman who came to me and told me she was a high school dropout but this song inspired her to finish her degree is now a professor," he said as the infamous trumpet line to "You Can Get it if You Really Want" inspired the crowd to once again move and sing along to its inspirational message.

With "Sitting in Limbo" from 1971 holding things together with its meditative lyrics Cliff continued to demonstrate his vocal dynamics, which never let up. Wrapping things up for a series of encores, Cliff maintained his energy as he worked the stage and audience into a joyful state for a few more including the Slickers "Johnny Too Bad" from The Harder they Come.

"This tour and my new record is a rebirth of my career!" Cliff remarked to more cheers from the crowd as he returned the stage for "One More" from last year's essential Rebirth that demonstrated his unending efforts as a story teller and singer of the highest regard. Leaving and returning throughout the song Cliff and the band left the audience chanting the songs chorus with a satisfied charm enveloped in mutual gratitude on an incredible night only legends like Cliff can conjure. For a career that's in its fifth decade it was a real treat for the First Avenue crowd.

Critic's Bias: Being a huge fan and having seen Jimmy Cliff a few years back at the Minnesota Zoo, I knew this would be a special night of high energy, positive vibrations.

The Crowd: A very eclectic mix of reggae fans all inspired to participate and celebrate the great history and legacy of Jamaican music with one of the greatest masters of the craft.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Man, I swear, every Jewish guy I know in Minneapolis is here tonight!"

Random Notebook Dump: Man, what a voice!!

Bongo Man/Rivers of Bablyon
Hard Road to Travel
King of Kings
Miss Jamaica
Roots Woman
Wild World
Wonderful World, Beautiful People
World Upside Down
Honor Your Mother and Father
Judge Not
Puppet on a String
Many Rivers to Cross
The Harder they Come
I Can See Clearly Now
You Can Get it if You Really Want
Sitting in Limbo
Let Your Yeah be Yeah
The Rebel in Me
Johnny Too Bad
One More

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