Jimmy Cliff rocks Lowell with swagger

A review of Jimmy Cliff at the Lowell Summer Music Series on July 10, 2010

, Managing Editor

After Saturday afternoon felt like the Boston area was being hit with a monsoon, Jimmy Cliff delivering the sweet island sounds of Jamaica served as the perfect way for reggae fans to brighten their day. As part of the Lowell Summer Music Series, the newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer hit Boarding House Park on Saturday night to jam out his hits and some of his favorite covers.

Cliff’s name may not resonate the way those of fellow inductees do, but there’s no denying his importance to the history of reggae music. Not only is he a pioneer of the genre, he’s also the only real reggae icon still alive. Cliff is now 62 years old but has the youthful exuberance and agility of some 22 year olds. He shimmied across the stage in his orange, tiger-like getup during show opener “We All Are One”, with a move that looked like a cross between “the running man” and “the moonwalk”. Cliff wasn’t the only one dancing as the majority of fans spent the evening grooving on their feet for one the series’ few “standing shows” of the season. Fans even got a dance lesson from Cliff and several members of his extensive nine-piece band as they taught the fans to “swing” and “thunderclap” during “Rebel In Me”.

Although he’s surely got some moves left, Jimmy Cliff didn’t get to where he is today from dancing. His induction into the Rock Hall this year comes at a perfect time. It draws attention to his music, which is important because the messages in many of his songs are still as relevant today as when he first wrote them. He spoke of his appreciation for nature before “Save Our Planet Earth” and related it to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf. He also shifted the focus of his famous protest song “Vietnam” to Afghanistan as he marched around the stage like a soldier.

Cliff touched on some important subjects but the night certainly wasn’t dominated with a serious tone. Some of Cliff’s goofiest dance moves were featured during “The Harder They Come” shortly before lightening the mood even further with his famous cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly”. After Cliff and most of his band took to African drumming on “Rivers of Babylon” they returned for an encore medley of “Treat the Youths Right/Reggae Movement/Run-A-Dub Partner”. After a James Brown-esque fake faint (minus the blanket) Cliff “recuperated” with a few more dance moves before signing off and leaving his band to exit piece by piece.

Jimmy Cliff’s name may not ring out like that of Bob Marley or Peter Tosh when one thinks of reggae but he certainly belongs in the same conversation. With the latter two icons no longer with us, fans of classic reggae can be thankful that there’s still a Jimmy Cliff in this world.

Trevor Hall opened things up and got the “standing” aspect of the show going early as people were on their feet clapping along to many of his songs, especially enjoying the pop groove “Om Shakti Om”.

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