By Tracy Moore
Host, Reggae Shack
KTHX 100.1 fm Reno and Lake Tahoe
Sundays 8 to 10 pm pacific time
The next generation Wailers band continued to positively plow through their 2020 winter U.S. tour on January 24 with a peak experience in the High Sierra, a powerful display of 21st century relevance for a packed house at the historic Crown Room, Crystal Bay Casino, Lake Tahoe.
Bob Marley once said of the personnel changes always swirling around the Wailers that “whoever plays with me is the Wailers,” meaning whoever is coming with the ability, focus, sincerity, drive and willingness required to meet Bob’s demanding standards becomes part of the very definition of being a Wailer. By the end of this incarnation of the Wailers’ sizzling final encore medley of “Punky Reggae Party” into “Exodus,” standing hand in hand at the front of the stage soaking in the deafening apprecialove, you almost expected a nearly 75-year-old Bob to stride on to the stage, hands high, eyes brimming with pride at the way his Wailers are still expressing his power, creativity, insight and intent — on their own terms.
It all started quaintly enough, with this night’s lineup of Family Man bloodline connection Aston Barrett Jr. deftly honoring his late uncle Carlton on drums, Owen “Dready” Reid on bass, Andres Lopez at the keys, and in the absence of guitarist Don Kinsey, the Easy Star All Star, solo artist and touring Wailer member (as well as one of my all time favorite reggae veterans), Junior Jazz, stepping up to make it a very special night of onstage musicianship, quickly diminishing the disappointment of not having Kinsey or the no longer touring Family Man in the mix. These Wailers showed off their chops for the early arrivals, soon joined by another Barrett, actually a distant cousin of Aston, Jersey-born Josh David Barrett on guitar and lead vocals, along with a pair of strong female voices in Shema McGregor and Ann Marie Thompson repping the I-Three vibe, all building the musical momentum as they flexed their competency on Marley favorites like Rastaman Vibration, Is This Love, Concrete Jungle and Stir It Up.
Right about the time the room packed out, the Wailers, and especially at this point Josh David Barrett, launched into a version of Rebel Music that ignited the crowd and seemed to heat up the band from a nice vintage analog smolder into something that showed that the Wailers will never be content as just a nostalgia show, but are here to remain a true force in reggae music. As Junior Jazz noted, in fact, the Wailers plan to release new music and a new album in 2020, a thrilling concept to the youth and to long time fans.
Overall-clad vocalist Barrett aptly and adorably conveyed Bob’s country charm, tastefully and erneslty rendering Bob’s moves and presence, a superb and well-disciplined effort to do the impossible: quench the crowd’s eternal thirst for Bob Marley, while confidently doing his part to affirm the Wailers as a top-notch and still definitive presence in modern day reggae. His stirring emulation of some of Bob’s more shamanic dance styles delighted the crowd when the Wailers dropped into dub sections, and those sections provided space to the band to go from merely displaying impeccable musicianship and a razor sharp rhythmic pocket to steering the crowd on a dazzling musical journey that only inspired master musicians can pilot. The individual solo prowess from Lopez, Jr. Jazz, Dready and Aston Jr. greatly impressed all, but their interplay together, within the spirit and poetry of the Marley classics the people of this earth have adopted as their own, served to give a bonafide taste, in the physical absence of the King of Reggae himself, of the ability of the Wailers to transcend “show,” and move to “experience.”
The Wailers elevated that experience to incredible heights during their encore set of “Redemption Song,” “Lively Up Yourself,” and the “Punky Reggae Party” to “Exodus” medley, always gracefully and powerfully maintaining that balance between being true to their royal origins but allowing their present moment legitimacy to shine. As Bob would agree, these artists are the Wailers.