When people ask me how The Wailers show was, all I can think to say is that it was a truly spiritual experience. When people think about reggae music, they think about Bob Marley. When they know Bob Marley, knowledge of The Wailers is next in line. Somehow, at their live show, I was swept into the flow of liquid life that poured into the audience off the stage and from the hearts of one of the most highly revered reggae bands of all time.
The O2 Institute in Birmingham, formerly known as the Digbeth Institute, boasts a 2000-capacity primary auditorium including a balcony section. Having previously worked at the venue, the space holds a personal connection for me. Birmingham also holds a long-running reggae connection; having given birth to established bands such as Steel Pulse and UB40.
For me, everything about seeing The Wailers now, at this time in my life and in this place, with all the history and connections, made it a sacred experience. I was able to put myself in a space I’ve never really experienced before. So if you’re looking to hear criticisms or a negative review of this show, you may as well stop reading here. This really ain’t one of them.
The line-up featured original members Aston “Familyman” Barrett, Junior Marvin, and Donald Kinsey. Fronted by lead vocalist Josh David Barrett; the stage was almost spilling over with musicians and their equipment, but there was nothing “too much” about this performance. This was a show that knew exactly what its purpose was and how to achieve it.
The entire vibe of this show was on point. Almost everyone seemed like they were in a zone, and nobody had any bones to pick. I don’t usually put myself in many situations around people who drink alcohol; I can even end up being on the defensive. But this was one of those times when it didn’t seem to interfere with peoples’ capacity to be considerate humans, and nor did I feel the need to shield myself from the lowered inhibitions of steam-releasing brummies. Thankfully, it was all love.
Josh Barrett commenced the show by calling on the spirit of Jah. In respect to the Rastafarian belief, they called upon the presence of something greater than us. This struck me, as I noted its resonance with me and took my own moment to pay respect. And so began the show. “Buffalo Soldier” and “I Shot the Sheriff” nested neatly near the top of the set list. It guided people into the flow and made us move to the collective beat. “Is This Love”, “Waiting In Vain” and “Three Little Birds” pulled us into the inevitable whirlwind of love that filled the venue; including all the ups and downs respectively.
“One Love” came. We sang. I cried. We danced. I loved. This song has the ability to transcend time, borders, beliefs, differences and more. The power of it has stood its ground and still reverberates the spirit of Bob Marley wherever it goes. Aptly enough, “No Woman, No Cry” came next and, after drying my tears, I sang along to the reassuring refrain that everything is gonna be alright. And I sincerely believe it too.
Finally “Jamming”, “The Heathen” and “Exodus” played out one of the most beautiful shows I’ve had the fortune of being a part of. The Exodus album has become the soundtrack of the last nine months for me, as I’ve been experiencing a type of transition; this night was the birth of something new.
The band left the stage that night having shared something so unique. As the crowd trickled out, I stood and stared at the abandoned stage. Having worked live music shows over the years, seeing how a stage looks immediately after performers have left it can tell me so much about the show. This stage was left almost the way it was found. There was no mess and no fuss. There was just the spirit and the material objects required to engage an audience. My favourite thing about this show was its impermanence; its ability to transcend the physical and leave with ease and grace.
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