As any real rudie knows, second-wave ska band The Beat rose from the industrial ashes of working class Birmingham, England, in the late 1970s. Like their ska revival contemporaries The Selecter and The Specials, The Beat’s particular blend of New Wave reggae-pop and their message of racial integration and social unity spoke to a particular era, and like them, faded by the early ‘80s. What fewer fans may realize is that their regeneration has yielded two groups: The Beat, based in the U.K., and The English Beat, based in the U.S., and helmed by Dave Wakeling, the band’s original frontman.
Awaiting Wakeling and his crew last Friday at SOhO was a capacity crowd of young SoCal professionals, a few sporting pork pie hats, flat caps, and checkerboard prints. The lager flowed freely in anticipation of the 9:30 start, and The Beat hit the stage with an opening set that included the juicy reverb of “Hands Off She’s Mine” and the much anticipated “Twist and Crawl.”
Both band and crowd were good-natured, until Wakeling noticed a perceived injustice. “There’s no reserved seating on the floor,” he chided the audience. “Let’s have the people who dance the best come to the front.” Compliance was rewarded with “Tears of a Clown,” the classic Smokey Robinson cover, to round off the first set.
After a lengthy liquid break, the infectious reggae rhythms of “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” and “The Doors of Your Heart” transported the audience to a Jamaican beach party with all but sand underfoot. Wakeling took a few liberties with the traditional lyrics, singing, “I see man and man war and kill each other, because you are Sunni or you are Shi’ite. Say what’s the use in fighting boy? I say you shouldn’t really fight.”
As the night wore on and the crowd thinned, only the die-hards had the pleasure of singing along to “Mirror in the Bathroom” and skanking to “Jackpot.” The clock was striking 1 a.m. as Wakeling crooned, “Say what a joy, what a joy, what a joyful sound,” and we stumbled into the night with our ears ringing and our hearts lightened by the knowledge that somehow, The Beat goes on.