Sun-Splashed Nostalgia

The Wailers tap some old-time religion.

Reggae king Bob Marley is one of the few humans in history who may have successfully attained immortality. Rather than fading into obscurity after his corporeal demise from cancer in 1981, Marley and his musical legacy were instead transmogrified into a single mythology so powerful and widespread that it has approached the status of religion. Even today, the mere mention of him -- or of anything Marley-related, for that matter -- is enough to trigger an involuntary surge of sun-splashed nostalgia and rock-steady fervor among the reggae faithful.

That wellspring of devotion to the man, the movement and the music he popularized is tapped every time Marley's old band, the Wailers, takes the stage -- as it will doing once again tonight, April 21, at the Big Easy.

The Wailers in 2005 bear only a passing resemblance to the band that backed Marley at the height of his popularity in the 1970s. The group -- led immediately post-Marley as it is today by bassist Aston "Familyman" Barrett -- struggled through much of the following decade for direction, identity and against legal impasses before coming into their own as a viable performing and recording group.

Maintaining a stable lineup has been an additional challenge for the Wailers. In 1987, Barrett's brother, drummer Carlton, was gunned down in front of his home. (It was later discovered that his wife ordered the hit.) And recent years have witnessed the exodus of several other longtime members. Yet so long as someone (in this case, Barrett) bore the Wailers mantle, the band would find large and receptive audiences eager for worship at the Marley altar. Following the sold-out 2004 tour of the Barrett-led Wailers, the Familyman assembled one of the best and most authentic versions of the Wailers in years for the 2005 reunion, including original lead guitarist Junior Marvin, saxophonist Glen DaCosta, and trombone player Vin Gordon, all of whom played alongside Marley at one time or another. Additionally, lead vocalist Gary "Nesta" Pine (formerly of City Heat) is regarded as the Wailers' best front man since the master himself.

Idol worship is a trip. But good tunes are their own reward. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you dig the reggae, there really isn't a better or more authentic way to succumb to that urge than to check in with the Wailers.

The Wailers at the Big Easy Concert House on Thursday, April 21, at 8pm. Tickets: $19.50. Call 325-SEAT.

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