On a crisp, late-summer night, the Catch a Fire Tour came to downtown Kansas City, setting aflame Crossroads KC in more ways than one.
The tour brings together reggae stars Damian Marley and Stephen Marley, sons of the late Bob Marley, plus Morgan Heritage and Tarrus Riley, all of whom sang songs or preached about hope, love (“loving is the key to prosperity,” Riley sang), the power of music and the virtues of marijuana, which made its presence known throughout the show.
The day was acknowledged for several events: the terrorist attacks in 2001; as the anniversary of the 1987 murder of reggae legend Peter Tosh; and as the Ethiopian New Year.
By the time Stephen Marley took the stage, more than 1,400 fans were in the place, including Kansas City rap star Tech N9ne, who took refuge inside the gates that surrounded the soundboard.
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The Marleys performed separately and together, honoring their father by covering songs like “Is This Love,” “Iron Lion Zion” and “Three Little Birds.” About midway through, the Marleys’ nephew Skip Marley emerged from backstage and joined in a cover of his grandfather’s “Cry to Me.”
Four hours of reggae can start to feel redundant after a while, but all of the performers and their bands delivered some variety, infusing songs with elements of rock, ska, hip-hop and soul and adding soulful background vocals. Many of the arrangements were keyboard-laden, but there were enough guitar and saxophone riffs and solos to keep things fresh.
Damian Marley’s set was especially fiery and dynamic, filled with fierce anthems and raps with political and social themes, like “More Justice,” “Land of Promise,” a song he wrote with Nas, “War,” another Bob Marley cover, and “Patience.”
Other highlights: Damian’s “Hey Girl,” an electro-reggae/R&B love song with some amusing rhymes. And from Stephen, original songs like “Break Us Apart,” “Pale Moonlight,” “Made in Africa” and “No Cigarette Smoking (In My Room).”
They finished with a flourish, rolling out some of their father’s greatest hits: “Get Up Stand Up” and “Could You Be Loved,” one of the evening’s best moments.
Then came an incendiary rendition of “Welcome to Jamrock,” a hardcore rap about violence, crime, poverty and corruption — Damian’s portrait of Jamaica, as opposed to the one portrayed in travel brochures. After so many hymns about peace, love and justice, that one left the place abuzz, whether you were smoking anything or not.