Aftermath's companion expressed doubt about Sunday night's English Beat concert at Warehouse Live. He's a pretty big fan of The Beat, you see, and having listened to their music for more than 20 years but having never seen them live, he was worried the result might be something akin to our recent experience with The Wailers -- an fandom-tainting letdown of epic proportions. Just before the show, we also had this exchange. "I've never been a big fan of Fishbone." "Well, you've got to at least respect [singer] Angelo Moore." "Oh, do I?" Later, at the venue, two songs into Fishbone's set, our companion turned to us, shouting over the crowd with a mile-wide grin on his face. "MAN! THIS IS AWESOME! I forgot how fun ska is!"
Indeed, Fishbone, a band that has seemingly never stopped touring, got a warm welcome from a decidedly two-tone crowd in the Warehouse's smaller studio room (a wedding reception was going on in the ballroom). Aftermath was happy to see that the funk/punk/ska band's six members all sang and played instruments, and Moore got catcalls when he picked up his sax between verses. Aftermath, however, was especially enamored with the fact that Moore was playing a fucking Theremin, and was insanely good at it too, waving the bass line from Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," to mimicing a record being scratched. Fishbone's sound has always been straight-up dirty, like the alley cats their name implies, but the crowd seemed to be an odd mix of 50-somethings and kids. We mean little kids. Eight-year-olds, dude. Aftermath did, however, finally get to meet Raymond Gayle who was selling copies of his documentary in which Angelo Moore is featured. At the end of Fishbone's psychedelic ska set, 200 people were skankin' in unison to "Party at Ground Zero," the song that terrified another Rocks Off member as a child. Between sets, the sound engineer at Warehouse Live had the genius to play Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'" at maximum volume, which put Aftermath into the perfect Mod mood. At first glance, when The Beat's frontman and sole original member Dave Wakeling stepped onto the stage, Aftermath's heart sunk a bit. Wakeling is petite, and these days, at age 53, he's sporting quite the spare tire. To be frank, he looked pretty washed up. But the minute the band launched into "Twist & Crawl" all was right with the world, since Wakeling's hot toddy voice hasn't changed a note from the band's first album, released in 1980.
The band's line-up has changed, however. Wakeling split with fellow vocalist Ranking Roger, who went on to form his own version of The Beat which tours almost exclusively in the UK. Other members went on to form bands including Fine Young Cannibals, Big Audio Dynamite and General Public. It's all very confusing. Wakeling now performs with a group of middle-aged black musicians (and one young keyboardist) including a kick-ass bass player and a guy named Rude Boy Something-or-Other who now has the role of toasting the crowd that Ranking Roger once played.
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Sunday's show ran well past 1 a.m., mostly due to The Beat's 20-songs-plus setlist. Considering the band only released three studio albums, that was plenty of room for all their big hits and then some. Aftermath doesn't want to sound all fan-girl or anything but hearing "Save It For Later" live pretty much left us breathless and filled with warm fuzzies. Enough, at least, to quell the seething hatred of the rampant drunk who kept pushing his way to the front of the stage in order to give Wakeling fist-bump after fist-bump, inciting the ire of Wakeling himself, who later called the guy out and told him to simmer down. For a band that's been touring for 30 years with such limited material, you might think their show would be boring or at least mellow, but each song last night was presented in an interesting new arrangement, and the musicians Wakeling has picked were energetic and skilled. One thing about The Beat - their bass lines are elaborately melodic, and the afore-mentioned bass player made each song look effortless. Wakeling too, when covering Prince Buster's "Whine & Grine," experimented with Buddy Holly-style hiccups, trills and vocal flourishes. When you consider his deft handling of the rabble-rouser in the crowd you understand this is a musician who has played a few shows in his time.
Forget about ska. The Beat write excellent plain old pop songs that don't need to be fitted into a genre. Since many of the band's songs are about girls and romance, "Tenderness," The English Beat's final encore performance, was a flawless end to a long Valentine's Day show.
For more photos from the concert, check out our slideshow.