With The Specials just having played a few nights prior, it’s difficult not to make comparisons between that band and The English Beat. What Terry lacks in on-stage personability, Dave Wakeling more than makes up for. Looking more like a Beach Boy in his Lacoste golf shirt (or was it polo?) than one of the icons of Britain’s 2-tone ska revival of decades past, Wakeling greeted the crowd at the Venue on Tuesday, April 2 with a cheeky “I rescheduled this show so you could all go to The Specials”. That’s exactly what happened in my case, so I was grateful. That was a good show. So was this one.
So there’s no confusion – this is not the same band that tore up the European and UK charts in the 1980s; of the 6 performers on-stage, it’s `just’ Wakeling with a different, California-based, contingent of musicians. By quarter to nine there were only about 70 people in the venue, a lone fan pacing the deserted dance floor in a red shirt and a fedora sitting tightly on his head. He wandered the length and breadth of the dance floor, staying clear of the swirling light designs being projected onto it, but he eventually got over it. Idle observations as one waits for something to happen. Surveying the crowd then and later, the demographics are definitely skewed towards 40 and upwards, but there are quite a number of younger people here. By the time the show began at just after 9:30 pm, there were easily over 200 people in the house (the mezzanine was closed).
After brief pleasantries in the direction of the audience, the band started with “Rough Rider” and continued with “Tears of a Clown” (of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles fame). Not a person on the dance floor isn’t dancing, even the 70-year-old bearded geezer beside me is. Dave Wakeling is definitely a showman, he’s very comfortable doing the in-between chat and introduces every song individually. “Twist and Crawl” is definitely a higher energy version and space on the dance floor is getting tighter as the people get more active. I’d say they were definitely warmed up now. 2-Tone Tony improvises a riff on who remembers the ‘80s (it appears many do) and “I’ll Take You There” smacks of something a little older than that with its elements of funk (the Staple Singers hat a hit with it in the very early ‘70s and this technically was a hit for General Public, Wakeling’s first post The Beat-band ).
What I’m really liking about this show is that these songs are from an era in which the average song length was around 3 ½ minutes – I get the impression that this evening the song length averages 5 minutes or so – at 10 past 10 pm, we were only on the 6th song and there isn’t a lot of chit-chat and banter between songs! “Click Click” had a very nice quick pace to it – the audience responded with air-punches with the music. “Save It For Later” was greeted with lots of `whoooos’ from the audience. They were in turn invited to clap along but especially to jump. It has a lot more pep and energy live than on the standard recording. There was lots of applause when it ended. “Two Swords” was probably one of the shorter songs of the night. “Doors of Your Heart” was a slow and steady number, showing its reggae roots. “Best Friend” was really fun for the audience to dance to and an upbeat / high energy offering. “Sole Salvation” was more of a `proper’ singing number for Wakeling. And doubling on vocals with 2-Tone Tony easily masks any imperfections. For this style of music, having a horn section or similar is crucial – it’s where the melodic and emphatic interest comes from. For this band, they went with a reed instrument – and the saxophone is key to providing variety and movement atop the rhythm-centric focus the rest of the band has outside of vocals. For “Never You Done That”, the melodic variety comes from the keyboard while saxophonist takes a well deserved break by playing tambourine and singing back-up vocals. This song does come complete with the whistle ending from Wakeling. For General Public’s biggest hit “Tenderness” there were was much happy dancing and lots of “woooos” intermittently. 2-Tone Tony handled Ranking Roger’s part for the reggae-sounding “Ranking Full Stop” admirably, as he has done all evening. Other than vocals and occasionally playing tambourine, he really doesn’t have a lot to DO per se. I would imagine it could sometimes be a bit difficult to keep yourself engaged by what’s going on whilst waiting for your next vocal cue…which might not happen for a song or two as you just move along to the rhythm. I’d likely be bored out of my skull. The song continued without a break right into “Mirror in the Bathroom”. I thought there would be more of a reaction from the audience when that first note of the saxophone was played, but not really. They were no more or less appreciative than they had been all evening. At the end (about 20 past 11 pm) the band soaked up the applause and Wakeling thanked everyone for coming. The applause continued after they left for a good 3-4 minutes as the crowd hoped for more. There was no encore coming. When the house lights came on and technicians began getting cases out and generally getting tear-down underway, the applause petered out. People didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to leave despite the fact that it was a weeknight. Maybe they just wanted the evening to last a bit longer.
Tears of a Clown
Hands Off She’s Mine
Twist and Crawl
I’ll Take You There
Save It For Later
Too Nice To Talk To
Doors of Your Heart
Whine & Grine / Stand Down Margaret
Never You Done That
Ranking Full Stop
Mirror in the Bathroom