Blame it on the babysitter.
Unable to find someone to watch his daughter, Joel Castillo took her to work with him on Friday night. The job happened to be opening for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff at Crossroads KC. When Castillo’s set with 77 Jefferson was over, he happily hoisted daughter Keilani, 4, onto his shoulders to take in the headliner.
Cliff had Keilani and the rest of the two-thirds-full venue right where he wanted them on opening number “You Can Get It If You Really Want.” Now 40 years old, “You Can Get It” helped break reggae to a worldwide audience at a time when Bob Marley was still struggling to get a major label deal.
As Keilani clapped, threw up her hands and waved her arms, the rest of the crowd danced happily to Cliff’s relentlessly upbeat protest music. Themes of creating peace and injustice permeated the evening, but the tight nine-piece band made calls of “no more war” seem more like party anthems than political statements.
The 100-minute set covered all of the 64-year-old Cliff’s catalog. Refusing to stand still, Cliff used a couple of his earliest songs as an excuse to teach old ska dance steps. Cliff’s gyrations during “Rub-A-Dub Partner” left little doubt to the song’s subject.
A handful of new songs were sprinkled into the set, including a cover of Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” that Cliff made sound like an old original. “Vietnam” was updated to “Afghanistan” but sadly few other lyrics needed modification to be relevant. Toward the end of an empowering cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” Cliff recited the first Pslam, showcasing the poetry in scripture. A sublime performance of “Sitting Here In Limbo” featuring Cliff on an upside-down Les Paul was another high point.
The main set ended with a hypnotic drum circle and “Bongo Man.” As the scarf tied around Cliff’s head flopped with every drum beat, the air took on the feeling of a prayer meeting. Although delivered well past Keilani’s bedtime it was a fitting lullaby.
Setlist: You Can Get It If You Really Want; Children’s Bread; Treat the Youths Right; Rub-A-Dub Partner; Wild World; Ruby Soho; Rebel Rebel; Vietnam; World Upside Down; King of Kings > Miss Jamaica; Sitting Here in Limbo; Let Your Yeah Be Yeah; I Can See Clearly Now (Psalm 1); Bongo Man. Encore 1: One More. Encore 2: The Harder They Come; Wonderful World, Beautiful People.