The Specials @ The Commodore Ballroom – March 29th 2013


The ‘rude boys’, ‘rude girls’, mods, etc. proudly wore their get-ups inspired by yesteryear to the 1st of 2 nights in Vancouver The Specials were performing. This first night was at The Commodore Ballroom and it was very well attended. As I was picking up my ticket, door sales closed – the Ballroom had officially reached capacity.

San Diego-based Little Hurricane were the opener and they are a duo: female drummer and male guitarist who also sing. Sound-wise, I would peg them in the neighbourhood of White Stripes meets Black Keys, with a bit of Band of Skulls thrown in for good measure. In other words: southern US blues-style with grounded rock (easy on the roll) devices. This was their first time in Vancouver, first time in Canada, period. I think they liked it; they played to an almost full house who responded positively to their brand of music. For one song, the guitarist had placed another guitar on a keyboard behind him and played it a lot like an ironing board for parts of a couple of songs. A song called “Crocodile Tears” concluded their 30+ minute set and featured a back and forth conversation between the drummer and guitarist lyrically and the use of the ‘ironing board’. Looks a bit weird, sounds a lot good.

The rarely used curtain closes a few minutes before 10:30 pm. The Commodore is full – there were a couple of “standing room only” spots upstairs by the back wall of the mezzanine bar, but that is really about it – it’s tight. For those old enough to remember, attempts at Docs (remember cherry Docs?), an occasional trilby or pork pie, a generally black & white wardrobe were made. The Specials even helped out with a couple of signature T-shirts for sale at the merchandise booth. They haven’t lasted 30 years for nothing (albeit, with a hiatus in-between) – I tried, but couldn’t for the life of me remember how to do a half-Windsor. Such is life.

For a good 20 minutes the audience stared at the curtain, then, to the sounds of “Enjoy Yourself” over the loudspeakers, and thunderous applause, the band came on-stage. They looked slick, dare I say ‘dapper’?. The first songs were “Do the Dog” and “(Dawning of a) New Era”. By “Gangsters”, the legendary bouncy floor of the Commodore is getting a good workout. The keyboard player, Nik Torp, is amongst the most dynamic I’ve ever seen. He’s always doing something active in addition to playing keys. Cartoon-esque on-the-spot running while not missing a note appears to be his specialty. “It’s Up to You and “Monkey Man” followed – floor is on full bounce. Audience is full voiced for the aye-aye-aye parts and band member jackets are starting to shed their jackets. The energy is high from the stage and from the audience. One particular (portly) guy in the balcony was clapping and stomping his foot so hard I was worried we might all crash through. Good times! It was Good Friday after all, a fact not lost on frontman Terry Hall, who got a bit of a Good Friday chant going. “Hey Little Rich Girl” had a nice little trombone feature as well as, if I am reading my half-light handwriting correctly, possibly a banjo. The song apparently was Amy Winehouse’s favourite Specials song and it was dedicated to her memory. The anti-racism message of “Doesn’t Make it Alright” was highlighted and the audience did airpunches or claps at the appropriate times. Über-cool looking drummer John Bradbury was introduced just before “Concrete Jungle”. More bouncy-times for the crowd, plus sing-alongs at the chorus. Keyboards were doing some syncopation here that the audience followed with clapping. At this point I’m thinking they’re really not the chattiest of bands. Rhythm guitarist Lynval Golding definitely engages more with the audience. Good tunes though because my favourite “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” was up. I really like the slow groove of the rhythm and it is essentially the evening’s theme. “Stereotype” was with trumpet. Nice, echoey, ‘stereo’ effect and it either had a long extension or a longer intro into the next song using the trombone because the band segued straight into “Man from C&A”. Switch here to double trumpets that fill the room. So good. It was almost hard to hear the crowd for this song, but they were a-jumping! They may have been glad for a bit of a rest with “Do Nothing” that featured trombone in the bridge and following. Between songs Terry has a bit of a talk with the audience acknowledging that yes, he is socially …he uses the R-word, I’ll say awkward. I’ll also say he expressed not a lot of admiration for the work of Chris Martin of Coldplay and leave it at that. Whistles and cheers erupted when the first notes of “A Message to You Rudy” were discernible. It is a little quicker in tempo than the original recorded version and the audience keeps step with clapping and singing the chorus. The highest number of smartphones are out for this one. The applause lingered after the song concluded and I think it was the loudest as it was all night. The introduction to “Nite Klub” seemed a bit circular, as if Terry may have missed a starting cue and the intro was repeated until the cue came round again. Audience didn’t care – they sang along for the majority of the song and full-on bouncing and jumping, even up in the mezzanine. When the audience sings by themselves, it sounds a bit like chants sung in football (soccer to you) stadia. Trumpet and trombone for this one. Rhythmically, I think “Little Bitch” is about ‘SKA 101’ as you can get and the audience yell along for the 1-2s. Terry and mobile bandmates (as in, not the drummer or horn section) ‘play’ a little with their crew during this song – knocking mic stands over, spilling water bottles – they put them through their paces, I’d say. This is starting to feel like a finish because the band go straight into “Too Much Too Young” and from there through to “Enjoy Yourself”. This final song has full audience participation from beginning to end and then, boom, they were done.

The encore didn’t take long to begin – it was just before midnight. The lighting crew put the focus on green and the stage looked a little spooky – fittingly, the song was “Ghost Town” done with the full ensemble. Long trombone bridge and the entire song just goes along at that almost hypnotically lulling leisurely pace. It could’ve gone on for hours, it was easily 5 minutes long this evening. The band go off for a few minutes and within 2 minutes of clapping, shouts, and whistles are back, but for Terry (who does poke his head out every so often from the stage right curtain), as the song is “Guns of Navarone” which is essentially done as an instrumental and every instrument gets at least a brief solo of sorts. The final song “You’re Wondering Now” I swear is the theme melody of Ben Miller’s new show “Death in Paradise”, or is at least the inspiration of it (admittedly, The Specials covered The Skatalites, but it’s the same song, I tell you). And it was brilliant and it was the end (10 past midnight). It took what seemed like forever to leave as everyone was talking to everyone else about how much fun tonight was and the merch booth was positively slammed with custom. All in all, a really good time out. I can only imagine what the second night must’ve been like at the Vogue Theatre.

Do the Dog
(Dawning of a) New Era
It’s Up to You
Monkey Man
Rat Race
Blank Expression
Hey Little Rich Girl
Doesn’t Make it Alright
Concrete Jungle
Friday Night, Saturday Morning
Man at C&A
Do Nothing
A Message to You Rudy
Nite Klub
Little Bitch
Too Much Too Young
Enjoy Yourself

Encore (part 1):
Ghost Town

Encore (part 2):
The Guns of Navarone
You’re Wondering Now

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