It's a good thing the smoking ban doesn't apply to cigarette lighters, or most of the audience at Saturday's Stephen Marley show would have been hauled away in chains. On cue from the stage at the Fillmore at the TLA, the air was filled with hundreds of tiny flames, a Milky Way of butane and plastic. It's possible Marley is disproportionately beloved of smokers (tobacco or otherwise). But there was an element of ritual to the miniature conflagration, as if the crowd had come prepared to play its part in a time-honored ceremony.
Mind Control, Marley's first solo album after years of producing and playing with his siblings in the Melody Makers, is an engaging fusion of traditional reggae and hip-hop. But onstage, he was as much Bob Marley's son as a solo artist, embracing his role as reggae royalty and drawing heavily on his father's back catalogue.
Bridging the gap between generations required a few compromises. Marley's own songs shed their experimental edge, recast as uptempo party grooves played by a crack seven-piece band (eight if you count the guy whose only job was to wave a Rastafarian flag). On the album, "Traffic Jam," a collaboration with Marley's brother Damian, who performs as Jr. Gong, rests on a dazzlingly spare backdrop of human beatbox and 10-cent keyboard riffs. Transplanted from street corner to nightclub, the song lost a good deal of its distinctiveness.
The rapper Mr. Cheeks made an unannounced guest appearance, reprising his part of "Iron Bars," which like "Traffic Jam" references Marley's brief incarceration for marijuana possession. But there was otherwise little evidence of Mind Control's contemporary influences. Most of the songs would have sounded the same had they been performed 30 years ago, which seemed to be the point.
Marley's voice is a ringer for his dad's mellifluous rasp. But the leisurely sway of his father's most hypnotic songs was sacrificed to the show's ceaseless drive; a breakneck "Buffalo Soldier, " for instance, left its ironic resignation in the dust. Only Damian's midshow interlude brought a welcome variation in pace. Performing several songs from his brilliant 2005 album Welcome to Jamrock, he brought the evening into the present and even the future, warning of Armageddon while still keeping those arms in the air.