Stephen Marley @ Nokia Theatre

Stephen Marley (Rob Snyder)NEW YORK, NY—With stenciled road cases bearing the name “Tuff Gong” littering the stage and rhythms of African transcendence blaring though the house speakers, there is only one plausible assumption of who is hiding deep in the belly of the Manhattan venue.

Just off the heels of a performance at the Coachella Festival in Indio, CA, and credited for recently releasing stunningly acclaimed recordings, the Marley brothers have made their way back east in a big way by stuffing the Nokia Theatre in Times Square with Damian “Jr. Gong” remaining on the bill in support of Stephen’s solo debut Mind Control.

As the house lights finally dropped around 10:40 p.m., the haze of smoke which emanated from the New York audience was so pungent that it literally singed the nostrils and sent the lungs in an uncontrollable frenzy for a taste. With his dreads swaying from side to side, each passing step led Stephen Marley closer into the awaiting spotlight. As his face appears, a chill comes over the venue’s patrons before the Nokia erupts in rawkus jubilation. A powerful “Rastafari” echoes throughout the air as Stephen’s rasp channels the spirit of his father who, unlike Bob Dylan or John Lennon, managed to bring clarity through music to the disenfranchised inhabitants of the Third World.

“Reggae On Broadway” kicked off the set which was quickly followed by “Chase Them” and “Slave Driver.” With his hand touching his face, Stephen dove into tracks off the debut, offerings which included “Mind Control,” and “Hey Baby,” as his small son peered up at him while standing by his father’s waist side.

The Mind Control LP, which was released in March of 2006 on Republic Records, features contributions by Mos Def, Jr Gong and Ben Harper. The recording is Stephen’s first solo studio effort with five Grammy Awards already tucked under his belt. Featured Marley family classics included renditions of “Buffalo Solider,” “No Woman No Cry” and “Iron Lion Zion.”

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley joined his brother on- stage about halfway through the set, jolting the already electric performance to explosive levels. With the audience glowing by handheld flames, Damian captures and hypnotizes the peasants by melodically singing, “Jamaica, Jamaica. Jamaica, Jamaica.”

Once he has the New York crowd firmly in the palm of his hand, “Out in the streets they call it murder!” blares through the PA and sets the house ablaze as the Marley brothers launched into the title track off Damian’s 2005 critical juggernaut Welcome To Jamrock. In raw hip-hop fused fashion, NYC is showing the Rastas serious love, and the smile on Damian’s face is priceless. “All Night” was followed by “Pimper’s Paradise.” The beat is so thick that the music seems to sit just a bit slow as the venue grooves seamlessly with Marley’s concoction of mystic audible delights floating through the air which touch down in danceable rhythm.

The set closed with a rendition of “Could You Be Loved.”

With midnight now well past, Stephen returned for his encore with a sea of praise showering down on him. “One Love” was expected, and so was “Jammin” which quickly followed suit. The composition which solidified the performance as brilliant and managed to enrich my very soul was a bass laden rendition of “Exodus.” It is a behemoth which is marvelous in its legacy and was transcendent in its delivery.

The spilled onto the street being met with a heavy police presence just after 12:45 p.m.

With politically charged social commentary, Somali born hip-hop artist K’naan opened the show and earned honorable mention.

Photo Credit: Rob Snyder