Queen Latifah had it right. Noting that not all the fans at the Merriweather Post Pavilion had accepted her invitation to "Dance for Me," she turned to the audience and said, "You paid all that money to get in, and now you're just going to sit there?"
She had a right to be incredulous, too, given the talent on hand. Before her performance, the still-gathering crowd basked in the booming, house-style sound of Crystal Waters; then, once the Queen had her say, it would be time for Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers' state-of-the-groove reggae. Between the three, the show promised enough rhythmic persuasion to make even the most reserved listeners want to get down and boogie.
Even so, the audience took some time to get in the mood -- or
even in its seats. In fact, by the time Waters went on (6:30 p.m., half an hour past the scheduled starting time), the Pavilion itself still seemed deserted.
No matter; the Washington native wasted little time getting down to business. Even though she performed to track -- that is, she sang over pre-recorded vocal and instrumental parts -- she managed to keep her short (20 minutes) set bristling with energy, from the bass-pumping beat of "Makin' Happy" to her house-pleasing hit, "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)." But her a capella rendition of "Deepest of Hearts" showed that Waters didn't need studio help to seem soulful.
Queen Latifah had far more to work with -- a broader stylistic base, greater vocal versatility and more material to choose from -- but that wasn't the only reason she one-upped Waters. Taking command of the crowd as if she was born to it (this is the Queen, after all), Latifah effortlessly whipped the audience into a frenzy, whether raising their consciousness with smart-and-sassy raps like "Ladies First" or simply raising a sweat with rhythmically intense numbers like "Come Into My House."
Still, it would be foolish to imagine that Queen Latifah, with her DJ, drummer and three backup singers, could ever hope to match the rhythmic momentum generated by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.
It isn't just that Ziggy, his brother Stephen and sisters Sharon and Cedella are heir to the Bob Marley legacy; what really makes this band matter is the Melody Makers' eagerness to move on. You could hear it in the new songs, like the hip hop-inflected "So Good So Right," and you could hear it in old, like the show-closing "Tomorrow People." But you heard it most in Bob Marley tunes like "Get Up, Stand Up," which sizzled with fresh excitement, or the group's relentless, insistent reading of "Could You Be Loved." Obviously, this is not a group eager to rest on anyone's laurels.
Of course, the Melody Makers' own songbook had also been updated since their last tour. Much of last night's show drew from the group's latest album, "Jahmekya," including such standout performances as the slow, sinuous "Jah Is True and Perfect" and the raucously enthusiastic "Rainbow Country." But even the most familiar songs were given fresh treatments. "Tumblin' Down," for instance, was fleshed out with a percolating synth beat that filled it with an itchy, unresolved tension that played well against the lyrics.