Sipping white wine under the canopy of heaven on a July evening, watching four sets by “legends of reggae” as the levels of the Bowl shell permutate the three colors of the Ethiopian flag, one is reminded why in the trade we call concert reviewing “the widowmaker.” Venerable singer-songwriter Bob Andy, backed by Ziggy Marley’s crack 10-piece band, opened the show with “The Sun Shines for Me,” “Too Experienced” and “My Life.” Following that fusillade, the 68-year-old Andy announced that only a year ago he had been learning to walk again, and that this was his first concert following a major surgery. The only bad thing about his set of 60s classics sweetened by caffeine-bright horns was that, at 20 minutes, it was too short. It occurred to me during the set that Morrissey must have listened to a lot of Bob Andy records, and that I would like to have my own waist-length gray dreads someday.
The same band introduced Freddie McGregor with a fanfare, preparing the audience for McGregor’s energetic, US-soul-flavored reggae. No longer “Little Freddie,” the 56-year-old former child star brought along his daughter, vocalist Yeshemabeth McGregor, and his longtime music director and guitarist, Dalton Browne. In a set that included “Africa Here I Come,” “To Be Poor Is A Crime” and “Big Ship,” McGregor was the only artist of the evening to offer praises to Haile Selassie or to remark on the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence.
Maxi Priest was a no-show, detained, he said in a statement distributed to the press, by “very unexpected delays in the processing of my work visa.” Ziggy Marley and Toots and the Maytals made up for Maxi Priest’s absence with longer sets, which was hard to get mad about. Marley’s band shone during his set, especially lead guitarist Takeshi Akimoto, who filled the amphitheater with Gilmour-esque Strat leads through echo, flange and envelope pedals on “Let Jah Will Be Done” and “Personal Revolution.” I am not conversant with Ziggy’s oeuvre, so I was surprised when “Brothers and Sisters,” “Black Cat” (about a cat!), “True to Myself,” “Tomorrow People” and “Love Is My Religion” fiddled with my personal emotions. Of course, the crowd went completely mental for Marley’s last number, the Wailers’ “Could You Be Loved,” the only Marley Sr. composition played that evening.
Though Frederick “Toots” Hibbert’s voice is as sweet as ever, there were a few shaky moments toward the beginning of the Maytals’ set, mostly owing to Toots’ unfortunate habit of holding the microphone closer to his navel than his mouth. Still, fits of restlessness in the big, gabby crowd lost the battle against reggae’s loveliest songs, “Pressure Drop,” “Time Tough,” “Sweet and Dandy,” “Bam Bam” and “Monkey Man.” Toots gave his all to the encore of “54-46 (That’s My Number),” a song only the clinically dead could resist, which brought the house down for good.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a big finale where we all get to play a little Bob,” Freddie McGregor told the LA Times the week before the show. There was no such finale, so I guess he wasn’t surprised. It would have been pointless to try to top “54-46 (That’s My Number).”