Truth ‘N Rights, Wailers put ‘reggae’ back in Ziggy’s

by Ryan Snyder

Danglin, in front of the Wailers at Ziggy’s last week, makes his case that the spot in  front of the legendary band is not a fungible commodity. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

Just over three weeks into the Ziggy’s Revival of 2011, a single element of the venue’s axiomatic “Roots Rock Reggae” trinity remained unfulfilled. When Psyche and Ras David “Starchild” Graves once again took the stage with the seminal Piedmont reggae band Truth ‘N Rights however, it felt as if order had been restored. The Aug. 24 show marked the fourth decade in which the band has graced the Ziggy’s stage, a history that began when Psyche gave Graves a copy of Bob Marley’s Babylon By Bus and prompted him to leave behind funk in favor of reggae for good. That all came full circle when Truth ‘N Rights opened for Marley’s famous backing band the Wailers in their return to Ziggy’s.

Of course, when discussing the Wailers these days, distinctions have to be made.

These were not the Original Wailers that feature former Marley’s guitarists Al Anderson and Junior Marvin. To be absolutely clear, this incarnation of the Wailers is the one led by original Marley low-end man Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the version fresh off of the seemingly endless Exodus tour in which they recreated the venerated work. A little bit has changed in that time: Singer Elan Atias left the band to pursue a solo career and has since been replaced with the rotating duo of Danglin and Yvad, as if the spot once held by the most luminous figure in reggae history is now a fungible commodity. Go figure.

Danglin took the helm for this one and whereas Atias was hyperanimated, Danglin was cool and subdued. He got lost in a slow-motion micro skank during a heavy dub jam led by Bar rett, who was nested back by the drum kit where he couldn’t impregnate any more women — for the time being, at least.

Thankfully, the band delved deeper into their catalog than simply playing Marley’s most recognizable album from cover to cover as they had done on their last three trips to the Triad (in an 18-month span). Instead, the set was a firm mix of mid-career Marley — Rastaman Vibration, Kaya and, yes, some Exodus. Barely any of the early ska recordings Marley made with the Wailers save for the ballad “Stir It Up,” though of course that’s not hardly the sound with which Marley’s associated anymore.

The Wailers are closer to a cover band these days — albeit a very good one. Their groove is stout and one that the band owns, and they’re faithful to both the music as Marley intended without creating carbon copies of album tracks. There were extended jams when “Waiting In Vain” stretched out to show off the considerable instrumental muscle they individually possessed. It is, however, still a sound that’s forever ensconced in open-mic nights and frat tailgates thanks to the cottage industry of white guys mim ing

the feel and flow that emerged out of the ’90s second wave of jam bands and Cali punk. Every time a cargo-shorted paleskin discovers ganja and Rastaman Vibration, a band like Simplified — who was sandwiched in between Truth ‘N Rights and the Wailers — appears, singing a watereddown derivative in bad island patois. It’s to the point where it was hard to hear the band perform a classic like “No Woman, No Cry” without cringing at memories of OAR butchering it. Few can approach Marley’s work with the tact and grace of Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer doing “Redemption Song,” but that’s not likely to stop anyone from trying.

So maybe it’s time to back up off of Bob’s music for a while. Give it some time to marinate. In the meantime, there’s plenty of more aggressive, pan-African reggae that remains criminally underrated. Truth ‘N Rights offered up some ideas when they covered Black Uhuru’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “I Love King Selassie.” Give Family Man and Marvin time to set aside whatever differences may have come between the two factions, because at this point, two Wailers bands is one too many.