Reggae and Rock

Jimmy Cliff

At Briggs Cage

November 12

Richard Thompson

At Sanders Theater


November 13

I don't get it. For nearly two years, since Elvis Costello's show at Bright Arena, Harvard offers no concert by a major rock performer. Then, within 24 hours of each other, Jimmy Cliff and Richard Thompson appear on campus.

It would be hard to find two pop performers more different than Cliff and Thompson. As a singer and a movie star, Cliff has helped make reggae a household word--and in the process, has made himself internationally famous. Thompson, a cult figure and a pioneer of the Celtic folk/rock movement, is one of those rare virtuosi--like B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler--who can make a guitar sing or weep. Both gave outstanding performances.

Cliff found no contradiction in declaring, "I am not a politician. I am a musician with a mission," and then singing several explicitly political songs on such topics as apartheid, Vietnam and nuclear war (this last in a song dedicated onstage to George Bush). But Cliff's polemics were delivered with such good nature and such energy that one could not help but dance. Even in the slow songs, Cliff's energy came streaming through, in the sweat running down his face and in a voice that soared to the rafters.

Although much of Cliff's set was taken from his current album, Hanging Fire,he pleased the crowd with most of his hits from the '60s and '70s, including "Sitting in Limbo," "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and "Rivers of Babylon." After a 90-minute set, Cliff closed the show with an encore of his two biggest hits, "Many Rivers to Cross" and "The Harder They Come."

THOMPSON has absolutely no stage presence, and his band has even less (with the exception of drummer Kenny Aaronson, on loan from the John Cougar Mellencamp band). But Thompson endeared himself to the crowd, not by flashy guitar heroics or acrobatic dancing, but through his self deprecating stage patter.

And of course, through his eloquent guitar work. Thompson channeled all his energy through his fingers, mesmerizing the audience with his fluidity and power. He showed a harder-rocking edge than he usually does on record. By the end of the hour-and-a-half set, during his fastest numbers, Thompson's solos careened with enough energy to send Sanders into orbit.

Like Cliff, Thompson made sure to play his hits, including "When the Spell is Broken," "Shoot Out the Lights" and "Tear-Stained Letter." He, too, dedicated a song to George Bush ("Pharoah"). His lone cover, an unexpected choice, was the encore of the Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," sung like a druidic chant on Salisbury Plain. Oddly enough, it worked.

One hopes it will not be another two years before performers of Jimmy Cliff and Richard Thompson's caliber appear on campus again. What's happening next weekend?