- Bob Marley and the Wailers LIVE! At the Rainbow
The Rainbow imagery is definitely from the 1970s sho nuff but the footage could have easily been filmed last weekor tomorrow for that matter. The band’s attire, stage setup and, most importantly, their world-conquering reggae sound are modern, timeless and absolutely committed to spiritual honesty. And that’s the word that I was searching for while watching this wonderfully poignant two-disc set: spiritual. The dozen nuggets on the live portion of the set recorded in June 1977 at the Rainbow Theatre in London, England shimmer with that weird, otherworldly quality that Bob Marley had absorbed into his soul and his magical music. The entire band is focused, tight and in the pocket and Marley floats over the whole blessed scene like a shaman that drifts in and out of time in a smoke-filled machine that knows no beginning or end.
Like most teenagers, I got into Jim Morrison and the Doors because of his huge anti-establishment posturing and the evil music that adolescents seem to crave as they wander down that awkward plank from childhood onto young adulthood and the world of responsibilities. Unfortunately, some folks never make that transition and stay stuck in time as the aging adolescent trip gets very old indeed or, tragically, one dies in a sad mixture of spiritual neglect, drugs, and alcohol or a combination of the unholy trinity. As I grew out of my own Morrison fixation in my early 20s, I turned to cultural icons like Dylan, Garcia, and Marley. The Rastafarian’s own trip had resonance for me, because unlike Captain Trips and Mr. Zimmerman, I had zero intellectual or genetic links with the Jamaican. I dig scenes that require a little bit of work on my suburban, introverted and isolated, enclosed upbringing part. I lived in fantasia and Marley’s world was absolutely bereft of fantasy but drenched with heavy doses of pain, struggle, blood, sweat, and a groove that was deeper than anything I had ever heard of this side of Tower of Power, P-Funk, or Sir Mick Jagger White Pimp Daddy dressed in the rags of James Brown.
The live Rainbow vibe sears the brain with Marley’s love chants & rebel politics & holy mojo built into a consistent wall of conceptually similar songs that reach towards the Rasta Otherworld. Each song from the opening “Trenchtown Rock,” to “I Shot the Sheriff” to “Lively Up Yourself” on to the eloquent and passionate “War > No Trouble” echo with a successful spiritual quest rooted in hope & joy & peace. These are very basic and simplistic qualities that in much lesser hands would come off trite, clichand, even worse, religiously extremist. The reason Marley continues to be relevant from his soul kiss on generations that extend from the 60s onto this century and beyond is that he can voice his poetically humane lyrics with serious heart and zero cynical selfishness.
Bob Marley stood in the face of many enemies who thought that he was like some Rasta Gandhi who sat on the fence of political strife instead of weeding out the obvious enemies. But, like Gandhi and many spiritual leaders from centuries past, Marley chose peace and mutual understanding as a tool to unite differing points of view. This trait will never go out of fashion and Marley knew that to survive the battle of the soul, one must grasp the needs of the outsiders and voice their concerns. Songs like “Get Up, Stand
Up” and “The Heathen” serve as notice that Marley needed to inspire those that had lost hope and infuse their dejected spirits with something other than despair. On this live disc, Marley stands as a great musical and religious figure that offered a way out of daily depression and a fresh look at eternity. That is perhaps no greater compliment for an artist that I can think of certainly not for someone who started in a music business that considered the reggae genre a novelty trip. Marley not only changed that definition but, like Elvis Presley, he was able to transform an idiom that contained spiritual truth and societal relevance beyond the ever-changing drug-laden dance halls.
Special mention must be made to the Wailers who present an almost symphonic level of reggae perfection at the Rainbow in June 1977. This era was especially significant at least to my seasoned ears as it had Led Zeppelin’s final barnstorming performances at the L.A. Forum in June; the Dead reaching a superhuman peak in May and June; Pink Floyd delivering its wicked hard rock and space masterpiece, the underrated Animals; disco exposing the dead-end theatrics of cocaine and kicking rock in the ass while punk rock vomited the real death sentence to turgid 70s-rock by laying down its own apocalyptic creed that music needed to be returned to the masses. Inevitably, the Dead and, later on, Phish would truly unite music and culture in the largest traveling communities but the seeds were sown that fateful year and are captured on this disc.
The Wailers played at that epic ’77 peak level beginning with the incredibly iconic figure of Marley, himself, on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. Julian (Junior) Marvin on lead guitar offers tasteful and colorful funky rock riffs while Tyrone Downie delivers the patented reggae slash and rhythm on keyboards. The Barrett Brother Duo Aston Family Man’ and Carlton on bass and drums, respectively, tower over just about any other rhythm section during this era: reggae, rock, jazz-rock, or any genre you want to mention. Alvin Seeco’ Patterson hammers out sharp percussion while the backing vocalists, the I-THREES Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt raise the bar for a backing trio as the pure earnestness and spirituality of their contributions nail the whole sound to the floorboards while dichotomically raising the roof towards another dimension. Their bond with Bob Marley is so tight that at one point, late in the show, he joins the trio and they sing as one in a moment that just explodes on the screen.
The second disc on this new DVD collection is certainly not to be dismissed or thought of as padded filler. We seem to currently live in the dawning age of the real goodies that sit in the music vaults in numerous locales. On this two-disc set we get the outstanding, award-winning documentary Caribbean Nights: The Bob Marley Story. This sounds like lazy press hype but this film is the reason a real music lover sits through four hour PBS pledge-a-marathons where they show a fantastic bit of television for ten minutes and, then, cut back to the pledge drive for another thirty minutes of coin-begging for their public television station. The documentary in full chronological glory details the parallel developments of Marley, the Rastafarians, the Jamaican political world, and the reggae music movement during Marley’s brief 36-year lifetime. The film also includes several interviews with Marley’s mother, widow (and ex-Wailer) Rita, longtime family friends, and other surviving members of the Wailers. The message during these interviews about the Marley legacy is the same that is portrayed in the Rainbow concert Bob Marley was an extraordinary musician who wanted to ease the burden of those less fortunate than himself and gave every ounce of his being to his timeless art and music. I suppose it is up to each and every one of us to see that his message continues to land in open minds with the ability to move within a positive light.