Album-Review: Bob Marley & The Wailers - Live Forever
by Angus Taylor
Live Forever: September, 23rd 1980 * Stanley Theatre * Pittsburgh, PA
It's questionable how effective a review of Bob Marley's final live concert at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre on 23rd September 1980 can be. It’s an event already steeped in mythology and historical importance - his collapse while jogging brought on by illness two days before, his then uphill attempts to crack the elusive American market (at a time when politically Jamaica was turning decisively towards the USA). Add the fact that anything Bob related - check the recent t shirt litigation - will sell like cakes from the oven, and it’s likely that for most people no write up is required.
But nevertheless, it's certainly an interesting and rewarding listen. Bob's voice and vital demeanour give no indication of his health problems. The Barrett Brothers and co start slowly, chugging through Natural Mystic, Positive Vibration and Burnin’ and Lootin’ before starting to really cook at Them Belly Full and keeping the momentum right to the encore. Al Anderson and Junior Marvin supply some big guitar solos while percussionist Alvin Seeco Patterson adds rhythmic pulse to Redemption Song. Bob was one of the first reggae artists to use a drum machine on Rainbow Country so the synth drums on Could You Be Loved, as the new digital decade beckons, are no surprise.
The recording was made via the soundboard to be played back and reviewed later so you can hear the levels being adjusted and the odd wiring blip. Soundboard recordings inevitably leave the crowd sounding rather distant and this is the one major weakness of this release. The closing two songs - Work and Get Up Stand Up - are missing from the crew reel to reel so Universal had to splice them from a "secondary source" and although the bass booms and the instrumentation is unclear there is slightly more sense of actually being at a concert than in the 18 tracks before.
As the levels fade we hear a voice responding to the ecstatic applause saying "if you keep this up we'll have to come back every year, every month". Tragically it was not to be, but it drives home the history of the occasion further still. Yet even if you ignore the narrative backdrop and the minor technical quibbles, this is a Bob Marley concert, and if you can't find something to enjoy here the world must seem a very bleak place.