Better Than: Watching VH1 Classic and listening to the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack.
The English Beat – not to be confused with simply the Beat, which is how ex-member Ranking Roger bills his version of the band overseas – headlined the Rockin’ the Colonies tour stop last night. Fronted by Dave Wakeling, the sextet celebrated 2-Tone ska without tarnishing its legacy, even in the cheesy confines of the VooDoo Lounge.
The band opened its set with the classic mid-tempo tune “Stand Down Margaret” and its manic cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown,” which sent the silver-haired-leaning crowd near the bar into a dancing frenzy. (Note: Not much true skanking occurred, from where I was sitting, although there was plenty of unself-conscious jubilant body moving; see below.) Other highlights included a revved-up version of “Twist and Crawl” and fan-pleasing takes on “Hands Off She’s Mine.”
(Dave Wakeling of English Beat)
The set’s pacing was a bit spotty, veering between mellow and uptempo in a haphazard way; the inclusion of several deep album cuts (“Rough Rider” especially) meant it also dragged somewhat in spots due to unfamiliarity. A rendition of the General Public version of “I’ll Take You There” was also a buzzkill, although that band’s “Tenderness” was a welcome treat. A sax-peppered “Mirror in the Bathroom” upped the dancing quotient, while the set’s final song, “Save it for Later” was celebratory and romantic, with Wakeling slipping a bit of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” into the tune near the end.
Wakeling was in jubilant spirits, good-naturedly telling a fan in front who kept requesting “Bathroom” to chill and that the band might not play it if he didn’t stop yelling. Loose-limbed toaster Antonee First Class was also in high spirits, frequently making references to Rude Boys and Rude Girls and claiming that everyone in attendance was going to lose twenty pounds from all the dancing they would do. His enthusiasm at times grew annoying, but mostly it was endearing: In fact, Wakeling at one point said that First Class was better than Ranking Roger -- a quick aside that few seemed to hear or acknowledge (besides us dorks in the back whose reaction boiled down to: “Did he say that? Oh no, he di’nt!”).
(Antonee First Class, on the right)
The Alarm opened the night with a rousing, raucous set of old and new tunes that underscored its punk leanings. Vocalist Mike Peters accented several tunes with his trademark urgent harmonica, and stalked the stage with strident guitar for tunes like “68 Guns,” “The Stand” and “Spirit of ’76.” New tunes from Guerilla Antics (such as “Situation Under Control” in particular) were rip-roaring, as was recent single “45 RPM.” Peters made frequent reference to the late Mississippi Nights – a favorite haunt of the Alarm back in the day – but his wide perma-grin and jubilant demeanor were infectious. If the Buzzcocks can play Warped Tour, so could the Alarm.
(Mike Peters of the Alarm)
Middle act the Fixx was the odd band out on the bill. For starters, its slower tempos and mellower tunes – think Pink Floyd meets Japan -- sapped the energy stirred up by the Alarm and weren’t a proper warm-up for the skanking party that was the English Beat. Second, the band’s never really had the pedigree and influence of the latter, or the timeless creativity and longevity of the former. (I mean, how often have you heard a band cite the Fixx as a huge influence? Right.) Third, despite rail-thin front man Cy Curnin’s charismatic nature, the group’s bloated, prog-influenced songs were, well, downright boring (even the hit “One Thing Leads to Another”). A friend remarked that he felt like he was in the movie Muriel’s Wedding watching an Australian wedding band – and he was right. Merely competent, the Fixx were the only band of the night that felt like it belonged on the casino circuit.
(Cy Curnin of the Fixx)
Personal Bias: Not gonna lie, I left the Fixx’s set halfway through because I was so bored, and lost $20 at video poker. I blame being distracted on some ridiculous dance show blaring Justin Timberlake and Madonna’s “4 Minutes,” followed soon after by Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Personal Bias II: Casinos in general depress me.
Reporter’s Notebook: The amount of empty nesters getting down – i.e., the plethora of PTA-mom shimmying and dopey white-guy dad-dancing -- was adorable and amusing. I couldn’t help but think about how much it must resemble the dancing which takes place at a 40-year high school reunion. I only saw one Street Dogs T-shirt and one bleached-blonde punkish kid repping for true punks, however.
Also, the English Beat has a secret weapon for its energy: Red Bull.
Finally, the English Beat's merch table was full of autographed LPs, CDs and even a cassette of the debut, I Just Can’t Stop It. Ouch-inducing moment, though: One of the albums for sale had Ranking Roger’s name prominently displayed.
-- Annie Zaleski