A Souled-Out Show on the Road to Stony Hill

Eleven years after welcoming us to Jamrock, Damian Marley is on the road to Stony Hill. It’s not just the name of the marijuana dispensary that the youngest Marley brother is opening near the Denver Bronco’s home field in Colorado. It’s not just the strand of weed that Jr. Gong personally helped to develop and test for said dispensary. Stony Hill, the name of the St. Andrew community north of Kingston where the young Lion grew up, is the title of Damian Marley’s upcoming fourth solo studio album. Full Review, Video & Photos After The Jump…

On Saturday, September 17, “The Road to Stony Hill Tour” hit the Bowery Ballroom in lower Manhattan head-on starting with a sound set that mash up the fete courtesy of Zion Train International. Those gathered time travelled with boom chunes from yesteryear that went from Shabba to Bounty, from Beenie to Sizzla from Barrington to a bit of Bitty McLean and nuff good stuff in between.

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Soon the band took their positions—longtime spar and musical director Shiah Coore on bass, prolific producer Winta James on keys—and struck up a classic tune. Longtime brethren of Baba Bob, Sky-High the Mau Mau, took the stage, ites, gold and green ablaze with the image of His Imperial Majesty, to announce the opening set. Black Am I, an international ghetto youth from the community of Nine Mile, where Bob Marley was born and is buried, delivered three strong songs before Sky-High came back to announce the headliner; the rising son, Damian Jr. Gong Marley.

The set began in the darkness with the words of H.I.M. Emperor Selassie I, the same intro that appears on Marley’s landmark “Welcome to Jamrock…”

And then came the light.

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In the wake of Ras Judah, the standard-bearer and color guard waving the royal flag of Ethiopia leading the way, the lion came to roar, locs down to the floor and ready for war. Brimstone began with the Skrillex collaboration “Make it Bun Dem.” From there, Jr. Gong performed songs in their entirety spanning material from the aforementioned Welcome to Jamrock and the Afrikan inspired and Nas co-conspired Distant Relatives project. There was a brief dip into Halfway Tree with “More Justice” before running into “Hey Girl,” “Beautiful” and “Affairs of the Heart.”

The stage lighting was superb, dancing and bathing the band and righteous bad man in constant color, sending the sense of sight into pleasures and delights. At times going into a strobe mode overload that could cause an epileptic fit well worth it. Looking up at the balcony of the sold-out show, one could imagine cats hanging from the rafters as if it were Harpo’s juke joint in The Color Purple. And indeed the Purple Reign was apparent as the reggae royal continued through his catalogue, back-up singers kicking up in a frenzy of energy like two I-Threes doing the pepperseed. He continued to score, performing his Father’s “war” and singing of trouble, how we don’t need no more. After an animated “Move” and proper performance of “Patience,” the concert hit a keynote.

Marley shifted the pace to set up the revelation of “Nail Pon Cross,” the lead single from Stony Hill which has had Marley under the fire of criticism for the crucifixion imagery in its video. Although the verbal warning has the dancehall flavor and battle-march vibrations we expect from Marley’s madness method, the word is Stony Hill will be more Bob Marley than Super Cat. Jr. Gong told the press that the album will have more ballads and singing and things you’d expect from his brothers.

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Gongzilla closed the night with a special delight, bringing out his young son, Elijah, to perform a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I love You” in the middle of a cover of father and grandfather’s “Could You Be Loved.” Marley and company left the stage after accolades and a thank you or two before Sky-High brought HIM back for an encore that took “The Road to Stony Hill Tour” down the “Road to Zion” and capped off with a stirring rendition of “Welcome to Jamrock.”

Music is a statement of the state of the art. The sound of the signs of the time; and the way Jr. Gong dropped it won’t be much longer that they’ll kill our prophets while many stand aside and look. “We operate the same way he would have operated,” said Jr. Gong of him and his brothers once upon a time in an interview. The Road to Stony Hill and lead single, “Nail Pon Cross,” show forth and prove that the Lion is doing his part to fulfill his father’s book.

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