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There is no shortage of voices in music today that sound strikingly like that of Bob Marley. That should come as little surprise considering how prolific the reggae legend was. After all, his wife, Rita, birthed 11 children including Ziggy Marley, Stephen Marley, Damian Marley, and Ky-Mani Marley, with Skip Marley among the recording artists emerging from Bob’s grandchildren. Perhaps less surprising is that the singer who sounds most like Marley without sharing the name currently performs with none other than The Wailers. Lead singer Mitchell Brunings did plenty to make a name for himself during the band’s recent stint in Southern California.
On the heels of a standout Sunday morning performance at BeachLife Festival in Redondo Beach, The Wailers brought their classic sounds and irie vibes to The Venice West in (you guessed it!) the coastal Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice for an official BeachLife after-party. Despite the Monday night billing, a packed house of 200 revelers brought the heat while skanking to the beat of reggae standards like “Is This Love?”, “I Shot The Sheriff”, “Waiting In Vain”, “Stir It Up”, “Three Little Birds”, and, of course, “One Love”.
Along the way, Brunings, the band’s frontman, posed as a pitch-perfect Bob. The signature rasp, the passionate gasp, the unshakeable and unmistakable grasp of a spirit that’s as much island cool as it is stridently defiant—he had all of it in spades, and might’ve been a dead ringer for Bob if he’d sported proper dreadlocks.
Brunings, though, was graciously eager to spread the spotlight around the rest of the band. He shared singing duties with guitarist Wendell “Junior Jazz” Ferraro, who cut a convincing Peter Tosh impression on “Get Up, Stand Up” and starred during the encore with his guitar work on “Redemption Song” and his vocals on “Could You Be Loved”. Alecia Marie and Teena Barnes more than balanced out Brunings and Junior’s gruff vocals with powerful voices of their own throughout the set. With Owen “Dreadie” Reid on bass, Andres “Ipes” Lopez on keys, Christian Cowlin handling sound engineering, and Leonard “Lennie” Chen bringing the vibes, The Wailers lit up Lincoln Boulevard with the joy and celebration of timeless island music.
Most of all, though, Brunings went out of his way to highlight Aston Barrett Jr., the band’s drummer and the not-so-missing link to the original Wailers. His father, Aston “Familyman” Barrett, was the bassist and musical director for Bob Marley and the Wailers; his uncle, Carlton “Carly” Barrett, played drums in that band; and his grandfather, the late Joe Higgs, was known as the “Godfather of Reggae,” having starred in the duo Higgs and Wilson alongside Roy Wilson and mentored Bob Marley—all of which is to say, Aston Jr. is reggae royalty. It was Aston’s father who encouraged him to take the reins of the Wailers in 2016, seven years after Jr. started joining “Familyman” on tour.
Now, The Wailers, as they tour today, are to reggae what the various iterations of Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin outfits have become to classic rock: not the original, to be sure, but unlike a typical cover band, still sharing a close biological, spiritual, and sonic tie to their forebears.
So while The Wailers may not have a Marley name to boost their fame, the skill and will with which they keep Bob’s music alive is well worth the experience, especially for anyone looking and able to catch a glimpse of their ongoing tour, which runs through the rest of spring and summer.