The Wailers at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
It’s 2012, and unbridled nostalgia is all the rage – the Stone Roses recently completed an historic homecoming residency at Heaton Park on the strength of some singles and one good (OK, great) album from the late ’80s. Bob Marley & The Wailers, on the other hand, are responsible for quite simply some of the best music ever recorded, not to mention the highest-selling reggae artists of all time, so surely it would be churlish to deny them their place on the lucrative reformation bandwagon. The only drawback, of course, is that their talismanic creative force and songwriter Bob Marley died over 30 years ago, and only a few core members still tour. However, fans present at the Shepherds Bush Empire last night that were braced for a mawkish, disrespectful trip down memory lane ended up pleasantly surprised by an utterly vital and joyous gig.
The band started off slowly, eschewing obvious hits like Jammin or Buffalo Soldier in favour for deeper cuts from Exodus and Rastaman Vibration. It was only after an hour or so that they unleashed the first of the big guns, with Is This Love, Roots Rock Reggae and Could You Be Loved sending the crowd into fits of ecstasy; from then on, the classics came thick and fast. It is little wonder that the Wailers were invited to open all three nights of the afore-mentioned Heaton Park extravaganza, as tracks like Get Up Stand Up and One Love transcend just about everyone’s musical tastes – do you know anyone who doesn’t like Legend?
By the encore, the band had all but ceded control of the microphone to the crowd, who roared their way through a solo acoustic Redemption Song, No Woman No Cry and a propulsive set-closing medley of Exodus and Punky Reggae Party. No matter what your opinion on the Wailers touring without Bob Marley, the fact is that after thirty years of over-exposure, these songs now belong to the public, and they remain so compelling and downright fun that we should be encouraging anyone with the necessary talent and volition to keep on playing them. If some of the original Wailers are still around to lend the necessary seal of authenticity then all the better for it.