The English Beat. At SOhO, Saturday, December 30, 2006.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
Despite a certain audience member’s assertions to the contrary, Ranking Roger — the Jamaica-born toast maestro who cofounded The English Beat with Dave Wakeling in the late 1970s — was not at SOhO Saturday night with the band. (Nor was former bandmate Saxa, for that matter.) Or, if Roger was, he never really emerged onto the narrow stage. Nonetheless, Wakeling, who lives in the Los Angeles area and seems to be touring in the same mode as he has for the last two decades, took the stage with a hot band equipped to play note-perfect versions of his impressive oeuvre. Former bandmates aside, Wakeling calls it The English Beat now, as is, no doubt, his right.
But who cares? The show was fun. After all, has anyone ever written songs more intelligent and yet wildly danceable? The band kicked off with “Rough Rider,” as Wakeling termed it, a “dirty reggae song,” then played ’80s memories like “Twist & Crawl,” “Ackee 1-2-3,” and “Doors to Your Heart.” They began a second set after an extended break with “Whine & Grine,” blasted through “2 Swords,” then did “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Tenderness” (the only General Public song of the night, inducing a host of women onstage to bump and grind inappropriately to the song’s call for gentility). Wakeling opened up “Hands Off, She’s Mine” with a mantra-like chant, inhabiting the moment while evoking the call-and-response soul of original ska. He often seemed happy, too, a veritable lord of the greatest pub band in the world. On the other hand, he threw away some obvious possibilities, like using “Stand Down, Margaret” to blast the overconfident idiot currently running down this country’s reputation.
The evening’s crowd wasn’t great, often proudly showcasing its narcissistic boorishness. Wakeling reacted in mild horror, twice stopping the show to prevent skank skirmishes by booze-fueled, no-longer-young knuckleheads — including a big blonde woman, underdressed and over-alcoholed, who started two fights. Good times.
Understandably, SOhO management anguishes over all-age crowds getting into trouble. But after watching this fun party get creepy a couple of times, I privately concluded they should always admit younger people. That way the 40-year-olds can learn from the younger kids how to act at a show.