The English Beat, The Romantics Fitzgerald's June 15, 2012
I've often wondered if people who experienced the '80s in adulthood had as much fun as the music still makes it sound today. Probably not, but try coming of age on the cusp of the '90s and all these rain-clouded Seattle bands pissing all over everyone's parade or borderline-comatose college-rockers like Pavement or Sebadoh mumbling all the time. Oof.
So if there's a ribbon of truth to the musical urban legend that the last time someone in a band smiled onstage was sometime in 1991, Dave Wakeling's grin threatened to blind the Fitzgerald's audience. Not to be all Pollyanna, but Wakeling and the rest of the English Beat's set upstairs Friday night was a solid hour-plus ray of sunshine without all the unpleasant heat-related connotations such an allusion might mean during a Houston summer.
From the minute the Beat began with the self-assured rocksteady groove of "Rough Rider" the crowd started rocking back and forth like a wheat field and didn't stop. Ably assisted by hypeman/rapper MC Under Control - who managed to work the words "Houston, Texas" into every single song and sometimes every other line -- Wakeling is a people-pleaser of the highest order, grabbing people (including a couple and a little boy) to come dance onstage and punctuating the songs with swigs of beer and merry banter. He seemed to be having as much fun as the audience, although that was a tough call.
The other four guys onstage, including the caged drummer, made it easy with a fast-moving, radiant stream of ska, deeper reggae, a good bit of Motown ("Tears of a Clown") and covers like the Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There," sprinkled with soul and smooth jazz and allowing the occasional garage-rock organ blowout.
The Beat certainly played every song I was hoping to hear - "Mirror In the Bathroom," "Twist and Crawl," "Can't Get Used to Losing You," "I Confess" even the one between "Sole Salvation" and "Tenderness" I have heard for years without quite figuring out the name.
As for openers the Romantics, it is unfortunate that the band may best be remembered for a song that gave its name to an innocuous '00s CW sitcom. They're so much better than that, much closer to a '60s garage-rock band well-versed in both the Byrds and the Stooges -- they're from Detroit, so you know they're legit -- who took a couple of songs to pick up steam then spent the second half of their hour knocking one glowering, jagged-edge Kinks or Who riff right out of the park.
So just based on Friday's show alone, the answer to the question, "Were the '80s fun?" has to be "yes."
Personal Bias: Outside touring and the occasional album, neither group has done a whole lot in the past 25 years. Had I been fully engaged in music when these bands were "active" (for lack of a better word), I would have been big fans of both. Still am, especially after finally seeing them live.
The Crowd: Sparse at first, but filled up nicely by the end without getting uncomfortably crowded. One of the increasingly rare shows where I felt like the youngest person in the room. And more females than males, which is never a bad thing.
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Overheard In the Crowd: Not much from where I was, but supposedly the couple who got up and danced during "Sole Salvation" was so engrossed in their own conversation that at first they didn't even notice Wakeling tapping them on the shoulder to go onstage.
Random Notebook Dump: English Beat had about 15 kinds of T-shirts at their merch stand. The Romantics had one black men's shirt, and then pink and black ladies' tank tops.