Any feel-good call for unity, as Julian Marley made at his delirious reggae show Sunday night at the Barrymore Theatre, doesn't mean much until it gets challenged.
And lo, early in the show, the challenge appeared next to me out of nowhere like a curl of smoke: a young guy in cargo pants dancing in the aisle like a tweaked-out orangutan in slow motion. So vigorous was his noodling, it slopped his beer on my foot.
Oh, brother. Here we go. After a slurred apology, he made his best offer.
"Want to drink my beer so I don't spill it on you?" "No."
More sloshy orangutan moves. "Do you have a pipe?" "No."
Pause. "Do any of your friends have a pipe?"
And so it continued. Not exactly a "one love" situation. But where it might have grated on me another time, it was easy to let it go in the presence of the hypnotic music and jubilant spirit of Julian Marley, who played a 90-plus minute show of originals, a few duos with his brother Stephen and a couple of tributes to their father Bob.
In general, the sons played their father's songs faster. Julian turned the molasses tempo and heavy-lidded plea of "Stir It Up" into a peppy call to action pierced with Luke Andrews' wailing guitar solos. Julian's take sounded fresh and not derivative. As he often did throughout the show, he flung his arms around and kicked up his knees loosely. The resemblance to his father is uncanny, unlike the beefier Stephen.
Together the brothers hit the zenith of the night when they traded verses on a speedy "Could You Be Loved?" and set the crowd in a feverish dance.
But the performance in general didn't feel like a throwback to Jamaica of the 1970s. The lyrics of Julian's song "Violence in the Streets," a single off his recently released album "Awake," address the current economic problems of Jamaica. His backing band, The Uprising, played with rock and hip-hop while still keeping pretty faithful to traditional reggae.
A couple of songs, like the title track off "Awake," sounded too heavy-handed and slowed down the pacing but in general Julian's originals flowed well and held their own in a live setting for a smooth show.
The tight backing band aced it. The sharp, bouncing chords of the keyboard on the upbeat held down an overall rhythm that hit the downbeat a split second late and gave the music a languid, ever-expanding feel like rings radiating from a drop of water.
It was hard to unscramble Julian's between-song talk through his heavy Jamaican accent and reverb-heavy mic, but the words that came through clearest were a simple message of peace and unity. The audience picked up on it quickly, and it followed them out the door into the mild October night. A group of friends walking down Atwood Avenue post-show stopped in the middle of some drunken bickering when one shouted out, "Shuddup! We gotta be united!"