Bob Marley & The Wailers: ‘Easy Skanking in Boston 78’ Album Review

To kick off the celebration of Bob Marley’s 70th birthday year, Universal/Island, in association with Tuff Gong Records, released Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Easy Skanking in Boston ’78 on February 17, 2015.  The release of this long-awaited live performance, which  took place at Boston’s Music Hall on June 8, 1978, features Bob Marley and the Wailers performing a thirteen-song set of Marley’s most politically significant and socially conscious songs, and just might be Marley’s best-produced live album since the critically-acclaimed 1975 album Live!.

The album set, which was released on Blu-Ray/CD combo pack as well as DVD/CD and standalone CD, includes fan favorites like “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Jammin’,” and “The Heathen.” The DVD/Blu-Ray discs contain previously unreleased and beautifully restored film footage that was shot by a fan using a handheld camera.

Bob Marley and the Wailers perform at Boston’s Music Hall midway through the US leg of the 1978 Kaya Tour which features the return of lead guitarist Al Anderson, a well-rehearsed, disciplined and tight Wailers band, and state-of-the-art sound equipment which allows for a dynamic live mix of the performance. Despite expectations that Marley’s Boston set will lean heavily on songs from the more recent Exodus (1977) and Kaya (1978) albums, he performs a set chock-full of more militant, politically themed tunes from earlier albums Catch A Fire and Burnin’. In fact, “Easy Skanking” is the only tune he plays from the new Kaya album.

Marley and his Wailers play two shows at the Music Hall on June 8, 1978, both of which are recorded live through the soundboard.  The bootlegged audio recordings of both shows have long been favorites among collectors and fans based on the high quality sound of the performances.  As someone who has thoroughly enjoyed listening to these shows for years, I am delighted to report that the remastered audio presented on Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Easy Skanking in Boston ’78 is a significant upgrade and may be the best sounding live Wailers performance to see an official release since Marley’s smash 1975 Live! album.

It is the earlier of the two shows from that evening that is presented on Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Easy Skanking in Boston ’78. The set opens with a searing rendition of “Slave Driver” which clearly takes the 3,200 in attendance by surprise as evidenced by their delayed yet robust applause. Carlton Barrett’s unmistakable drum roll gives way to that legendary Aston “Family Man” Barrett bass line and the bubbling organ of Earl “Wya” Lindo. The one-minute instrumental lead-in is pure perfection as the Barrett brothers, Wya Lindo, and the I-Three engage the audience in a beautifully choreographed dance. The crowd erupts as Marley’s vocal chimes in at the one minute mark. The sound of the live performance is multi-dimensional, well-mixed and remastered with all players and instruments coming through with crystal clarity. The live recording also captures the high energy of the show as the constant cheering, singing and applause by the audience are brilliantly mixed alongside the instrumentation and vocals without overtaking them. It is without a doubt one of the better-produced live concert recordings I’ve ever heard.

Marley treats the audience to an unforgettable performance of early Wailers tunes like “Slave Driver,” “Burnin’ And Lootin’,” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock),” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “War/No More Trouble,” and “Get Up, Stand Up.”  Though he leans heavily on his “rebel music,” he performs several of his most enduring and popular songs toward the end of the show. His performance of tunes like “Easy Skanking,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “Lively Up Yourself,” “Jammin’,” and the Peter Tosh-penned “Get Up, Stand Up” make for a more balanced set in the end.

The video footage included on the DVD/Blu-Ray has never been officially released and, save for a few short clips in Kevin McDonald’s 2012 documentary MARLEY, it has never appeared in any of the countless Bob Marley documentaries. This fascinating live footage will be new to almost everyone, including Marley’s most ardent fans and collectors, who are known for their dogged tenacity in unearthing archival material.

Marley’s live performances are legendary – so energetic and physically demanding that he had to prepare for months prior to departing for a tour.  As Marley friend and biographer Dermot Hussey once explained to me “Bob was highly disciplined, highly motivated, and highly driven. I saw him prepare  for the Natty Dread tour, rather like how a prize fighter prepares, eating right and playing a lot of soccer every afternoon in the yard of 56 [Hope Road] as a conditioning for his wind and stamina. Then at dusk, the game would end, and Bob would shower and by 8pm or so he would come into a little kind of outhouse, then at the back of 56. He would rehearse and rehearse, sometimes until 2am, night after night.”

Heralded by many within the rock establishment as one of the greatest live performers of the last half of the twentieth century, Marley was part Elvis, part Mick Jagger, and part James Brown all rolled up into a small 5’1″ frame that tested the laws of physics every time he hit the stage.  During his Boston performance, Marley often appears to be fighting a battle of the spirit as he clenches his fists, points his finger, grabs at his locks, and cries out, enraged.  As his wife Rita Marley so eloquently explained in one of the documentaries about Marley’s life and career “[I]t was like he was fighting a war on-stage every night.”

While filming Marley’s live performance in Boston, the cinematographer was forced to change rolls of film periodically, leaving gaps in the recording of the performance.  However, the gaps in the live footage have been augmented with specially created animation over the existing audio. The animation video elements were produced and created by the animation team of S77 whose credits include recent projects for Bruno Mars, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Disney, ESPN and many others. The 46-minute video includes seven of the 13 songs in the full set.

Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Easy Skanking in Boston ’78 recalls a period when music had spirit, and musicians – at least the great ones – performed live as if they would never get the chance to do it again.  This essential album set features an inspired, timeless performance by an artist who overcame impossible odds in order to bring his message to the masses and one to which every fan of roots, rock, and reggae deserves to bear witness.