The Wailers, Sly and Robbie and Bitty Mclean: Billboard Melbourne


Sly and Robbie
It was a Wednesday night at a venue that had seen it’s heyday a few times round. Sly and Robbie were pretty well suited to such a place. This formidable rhythm section and production duo, Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, having been the studio band and producers for the greats from the seventies until today have had a run that would put most hardworking creative people to shame. But here we were in a dim club, at a Bluesfest sideshow mid-week. It was a journeyman’s show. They were solid didn’t seek to impress, but provided a solid base for a vocalist to provide the shine, such that it was. Pleasant reggae in a ‘classic’ style, all class, but a subdued showing.

Then the Wailers appeared and the legendary backing band for Bob Marley had seen a few new members injecting it with some youthful drive they went on to provide the reggae jukebox equivalent of karaoke. Spinning out all the hits and memories of Bob Marley that had all the charm involved in polishing a gravestone. The singer had a bag full of showman tricks to induce crowd response but a good deal of the musicians played as if they were on a mission to provide for their retirement fund. All the message, political and spiritual, from the original songs were drowned out by getting the crowd into a little bit of a sing a long. But believe it, the crowd did sing along, at one with the message, stoners young and old, or just reggae enthusiasts. If you were expecting the light of the message as eluded to in the mystical preaching of Rastafarianism, Judaism and Christianity or radical political liberation from tyranny to be conveyed through this cultural moment you might have done better looking within. But if you were looking for a Wailers 2014 tour t-shirt you had probably come to the right place.

I am being a bit harsh, Sly and Robbie provided a good deal of the soundtrack to my youth and the Wailers are genuinely legends, but still I slunk off from this show like an incompetent juicer of life’s moments. By doing so I missed what was to be the highlight of the evening, Bitty Mclean strutting the material from his latest album ‘The Taxi Sessions’. But having never had any time for romantic reggae sugar merchants it wasn’t a big one. I understand that it was probably where Sly and Robbie pulled out all stops to showcase their latest production effort, but the moment has passed.



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