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[whitespace] Wailing Souls

Bob Marley's hallowed reggae legacy lives on in Barrett's big band

By David Espinoza

THE LEGACY OF Robert Nesta Marley is something always present in a town like Santa Cruz, where the cars with Rastafarian stickers are only outnumbered by ones with Deadhead stickers and everyone has at least one acquaintance sporting dreads. What's often missing from the picture, though, is the actual music of Marley himself. Granted, sometimes we get a tribute festival happening at the Civic, or good ol' Ziggy will pay us a visit. The next closest thing one can hope for would have to be Marley's band the Wailers, who just happened to bless the Palookaville stage Jan. 29.

Composed of some of the original members of Marley's backup group (technically, the band was known as "the Wailers" prior to being called Bob Marley & the Wailers), including most notably bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett and Marcia Griffiths of the I Threes, the Wailers burned through a definitive set. The fact that the surviving singer of the three who started the Wailers back in the '60s wasn't present (namely, Bunny "Wailer" Livingston) didn't seem to matter much as the seven musicians and three backup singers did a splendid job of performing each hit like they were brand-new. Appropriately described by the local MC as a "special treat for Santa Cruz," the first batch of musicians to get on stage consisted of two keyboardists, bass, drums, guitar and a sizzling two-piece horn section. After a couple of instrumental jams, Marcia Griffiths came on stage accompanied by two young divas, giving the sold-out crowd a taste of old-school rocksteady female harmony.

All this culminated with the introduction of vocalist David Pine, the man deemed worthy to fill Marley's shoes and who carried the band for the rest of the set. Rather than focusing on the overproduced and excessively played material from the runaway hit album Legend (a staple greatest-hits record for anyone living in Santa Cruz), the Wailers spent a decent portion of the night delivering grittier classics like "Crazy Baldheads," "Rat Race" and "Lively Up Yourself." The band even cleared the dust off of their '60s ska days and performed the rocksteady "Bend Down Low."

An especially stirring moment came when Pine and crew sang one of Marely's most provocative songs, "War/No More Trouble." With lyrics like, "Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there's a war," Marley's words remain as telling today (possibly even more so) as they did when they were first sung 30 years ago.

On a side note, local reggae boys Dub Congress opened the show with a smooth set of laid-back tunes indicative of Santa Cruz reggae. Basically a six-string band that happens to have a drummer and keyboardist (three guitars and a six-string bassist) the Congress succeeded in weaving a variety of leads and rhythms that didn't trip over each other.

Calendar Boys

Heads up on a hot February at Palookaville. Not only are East Coast thrash legends Bad Brains coming at the end of the month (under the guise of "Soul Brains"), but next Monday, phunk bass master Victor Wooten graces the stage as well. Things are only going to get better when hip-hoppers the Jurassic 5 come back for another round on Feb. 15.

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From the February 2-9, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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