The Original Wailers @ B.B. King Blues Club

NEW YORK, NY—It’s my general experience that the word “legendary” is, in the music world, more often than not, used erroneously or in some sort of misleading fashion. Take for example the “legendary” Wailers. I think of the “legendary” Wailers as being the group responsible for bringing reggae music to the masses, consisting of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, etc. The Wailers, I saw, despite being marketed as “legendary” and tagged as “original” were neither of these. In fact, the band only had two members that had even played with Bob Marley, Al Anderson and Junior Marvin, neither of whom was a part of the original Wailers listed above.

But just because the name’s misleading does not mean the music is bad. In fact, the music was pretty good. The Original Wailers ran through a string of Bob Marley classics on June 7 at B.B. King’s and to be honest, the classics were, well, classic, as one would expect. Tracks like “Natty Dread” and “Stir It Up” still sound smooth and relaxing, and the one-two reggae bounce the Wailers made popular all over North America in the 1970’s still runs through the music of the Original Wailers. Although the absence of a real horn section in favor of synth-horns did not make the for the most authentic legendary reggae experience, the synth-horns did their job of adding quick jabs and rhythmic punches to the laidback sunshine grooves of the Wailers.

As an added bonus, the cast of Broadway’s Hair, still decked out in love beads and afros joined the band onstage for a stunning rendition of the Bob Marley classic “Three Little Birds.” The mix of young and old on the stage seemed to reflect the great mix of young and old in the crowd, proving what may of us already knew: Bob Marley’s music extends beyond generations and not just because of some silly stoner-stereotype image. The man created music that was bold and passionate, uplifting yet at the same time severely alert, pointing at fingers at those who wrong humanity and providing comfort for those who have suffered the ill-effects of war, imperialism, colonization, and racism.

Sadly though, Bob and the rest of the original Wailers (i.e. Tosh, Bunny Wailer) could not be in attendance that night for obvious reasons, so while the band was tight and the vibes were chilled, the authenticity that would be required to make a performance of such legendary music truly moving was missing from the venue that night. The band was aging, but not because they themselves were legends. They were just people who had grown up on and played this legendary music for a little bit with the master. The band played the right notes, but they did not strike that vitality which makes Bob Marley’s music feel alive 40 years after the fact. But of course, if he were so easily imitable, would Bob Marley be the master of reggae music we now know him as?