San Francisco, CA
January 3, 2009
The Wailers: Rastafari, Ever Living, Ever Powerful
First, let me say that Nopa’s braised lamb shank is awesome, particularly when paired with the 2006 Ridge Zinfandel - Pagani Ranch and finished with the Dark chocolate pot de crème. Oh, and the mussels were quite good. Yes, the evening began at one of San Francisco’s hip eateries, Nopa- which is a particular favorite amongst transplanted New Yorkers and other night owls because of their late hours- not a common thing in San Francisco which rolls up the sidewalks pretty early for such a cosmopolitan city. Eating early was probably a good idea since our server told us the previous late night crowd consisted of many glassy-eyed Wailers fans from the Independent, just a block away, who couldn't seem to focus on the menu. It was a bit of a challenge to picture the tie-dyed, dread-locked crowd descending on Nopa after skanking the reggae shuffle all night in celebration of the late-great Bob Marley.
For many reggae listeners, reggae music begins and ends with Bob Marley. His tragic death in 1981 cut short a brilliant career and elevated Marley to iconic status. His death was later followed by the deaths of Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, and Carlton Barrett, leaving Bunny Wailer and bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett as the last survivors. With Bunny Wailer living a quiet life in Kingston, only Family Man is still in the current Wailers line-up – which raises an open question as to whether a single band member can claim the band’s name. One member is only a "Wailer" (singular). And with only one member of the Wailers actually in the band, the night’s performance seemed more akin to a Bob Marley tribute than an actual Wailers concert.
Fortunately, all the replacement musicians were fantastic, the horn section was great, the back-up singers were hot, even white-bread, LA native, singer Elan Atias did creditable service to Bob Marley’s easily identifiable voice and singing style. The band sounded very much like they did on the classic live album, Babylon by Bus, which captured Bob Marley and the Wailers at the height of their performance prowess.
Both nights of the Wailers’ performances in San Francisco were sold-out. And the crowd on Saturday was well ready for a punky reggae party, almost too much so with clouds of smoke hanging in the lights and balloons being batted about. The band promised to perform the legendary Exodus album, once named the most important album of the 20th century by Time magazine. They began with “Natural Mystic,” and played some of Marley's greatest hits including “Exodus,” “Jamming,” “Three Little Birds,” “Punky Reggae Party,” “Waiting in Vain,” “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” and of course, “One Love.”
Listening to such uplifting, hopeful songs of love and peace in our war-torn world reminded me of how the peacemakers are the true revolutionaries. While Israel storms through Gaza, bombs explode in Baghdad marketplaces and Afghanistan continues its downward trajectory, these songs have more resonance than ever. The world could still benefit from the vision of Bob Marley. Ever living. Ever powerful.