Playbill

What hath ska wrought? Its most recent resurgence has seen far more troughs than crests. Ska's integration with heavy metal has spawned some of the most annoying acts of all time. Somehow, punk and ska made better bedfellows. Rewind to the late '70s, when the Specials burst onto the punk-dominated scene with their buzz cuts, mohair suits and Ray-Bans. Their music, a bright new musical alloy of brash Brit 'tude and Caribbean rhythms, struck a chord with working-class English kids, who went crazy over it.

With scenesters like Elvis Costello on board (he produced the band's self-titled debut), the Specials became unusual hitmakers. Refusing to record for a major label, Specials keyboardist Jerry Dammers instead launched 2-Tone Records and snapped up compatriots like the English Beat, the Selecter and Madness. With its black-and-white checkerboard logo, 2-Tone focused on ethnic harmony during a time when racial tensions, unemployment and Maggie Thatcher's indomitable rise to power were tearing apart the Specials' native city of Coventry, not to mention Brixton and Liverpool. Riots in the last two places inspired the Specials' masterpiece, "Ghost Town," the utterly haunting song that has come to symbolize a gloomy era.

Soon after (and despite the success of) "Ghost Town," founding Specials Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple left to form the guilty new-wave pleasure Fun Boy Three, which palled around with other early-'80s playthings like Bananarama and the Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin before disbanding in 1983. Lately various members of the Specials have been keen, perhaps too much so, to cash in on ska's third wave. Among them is charismatic vocalist Staple, who lately has been involved with old buddies in several projects, including a collection of ska classics titled Skinhead Girl, which features Roddy Byers (a.k.a. Roddy Radiation) and Horace Painter (a.k.a. Sir Horace Gentleman). Diehards also can scout for Staple's shameless solo take on The Best of the Specials and Fun Boy Three.

Expect this show to follow the same general outline as that last record. Considering the potency of the Specials' and Fun Boy Three's material, one can assume that Staple will stick to old-school ska and new wave, not the crossover noise of today. Rest assured the guy's a veteran of a genre that is sorely lacking in legends. Not to say that Staple is on par with, say, the Skatalites, but ska fans should take what they can get and pogo to their hearts' content.

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Mike Emery