The English Beat
August 1, 2010
Better than: Staying home for the second episode of the new series of Mad Men. Yes, I said it.
All human life is here at a completely sold-out Fillmore. There were many variations of New Wave chic, including elfin blonde women in leather jackets and Doc Martens alongside scrawny, long-necked lads in striped T-shirts and black jeans. There were young'uns in 2-Tone checkered outfits, groovy '60s chicks with feathers in their hair, older couples in faded rock T-shirts, and gaggles of what looked to be lively bachelorette parties that had inexplicably lost their brides. Many of the more sedate folk paused at the top of the Fillmore's stairs to gaze agog at the photographs of rock royalty and puzzle over the presence of the apple barrel. Two men sat on the bench in the hallway, discussing life after 120 years of recorded music as a "painful compromise." Another beady-eyed chap turned to his friends after the English Beat's set and said, "Are you gonna stay for Squeeze? I only know one song."
Inside the main hall, the sprung dancefloor was bouncing from so many people jumping up and down while singing at the top of their lungs. Those seated or propped up at the side of the room played air guitar and waved their crutches, sometimes simultaneously, while availing themselves of some distinctly herbal medicine. Best of all, everyone seemed to know all the words, even if concepts like "In for bingo, all the nines" and "the Sweeney's doing ninety 'cause they got the word to go" might not be immediately translatable for American ears.
|Maureen "Action" Jackson|
started by tearing into early single "Take Me I'm Yours" and didn't let up the pace for a few more songs. Glenn Tilbrook was cheeriness personified, with tousled hair and irrepressible grin plus a rather loud brown pinstripe suit, while lyrical partner Chris Difford, less effusive but still thoroughly charming, might have modeled himself on Colin Firth's recent immaculate appearance in A Single Man
. On-again bassist John Bentley bopped around merrily in a purple suit and paisley shirt, while drummer Simon Hanson and keyboardist Stephen Large (from Tilbrook's backing band, the Fluffers
) alternately clowned and rocked out while looking both thrilled and debonair. They were all thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Tilbrook slowed things down for a laid-back, jazzy "When the Hangover Strikes," crooning "Poor, poor, poor shaken one/Pour, pour, pour me another one" while the screen behind the stage scrolled through decades-old newspaper clippings about the band's early career. One man standing in front of me grabbed his iPhone and began frantically typing. I was gearing up to scold him for inopportune texting when I noticed that he had Googled the band's hometown of Deptford
and was zooming in on the Isle of Dogs
on a map of the southeast London neighborhood. Curiosity is cool for cats, indeed.
The band's new-old album, Spot the Difference
, is released this week, essentially a rerecorded greatest hits compilation (challenging you to, well, spot the difference between the old and new recordings). Live, Squeeze sounded exactly like the records, which seemed to be all anyone could have asked for. Hits and almost-hits alike were greeted rapturously by the crowd. "Slap and Tickle" got an extended funk workout with Tilbrook throwing rock shapes, while Large played iPad piano as the deliciously deep-voiced Difford finally got his moment in the spotlight with "Cool for Cats." "Is That Love?" and "Up the Junction" got big cheers, as did "Hourglass" and "Goodbye Girl," while everyone sang along lustily to "Annie Get Your Gun" and set closer "Tempted."
"I think someone is smoking old slippers in here," Difford said wryly of the hazy fug rising above the stage. (Or maybe he said "kippers.") He went on to say that the evening was getting a little bit Mothers of Invention-esque, and noted that Frank Zappa was playing at the Fillmore right around the time he and Tilbrook first played music together.
The solitary encore ended with "Another Nail in My Heart" and a tour de force version of "Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)," Large going completely bonkers on keyboards, and then the band gathered at the edge of the stage to take a goodnight bow, forwards and backwards, all grinning from ear to ear. This was no in-it-for-the-money cynical nostalgia tour, but a thoroughly rocking, heartwarming night by one of the best English bands ever.
The show began with a rousing set by the English Beat
, which could almost be called the Dave Wakeling Band as he was the only original member of the group onstage. Their performance was lighthearted and lacked the tension that might have existed 30 years ago, when the Beat were part of England's 2-Tone scene
with a line-up that confronted racial barriers and songs that addressed political issues of the time.
|The English Beat|
This evening was all about the ska-influenced danceable numbers in Wakeling's oeuvre. The English Beat had the audience singing and dancing along with inspired workouts of "I Confess" and "Save It for Later," plus Wakeling's pair of hits with General Public
, "Never You Done That" and "Tenderness." The stage was invaded by Squeeze's Difford, Hanson, and Large for a high-energy rave-up of the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown," and the band closed its set with a rollicking version of "Mirror in the Bathroom." I found it pretty amusing to see a hall full of people punching the air while singing "You can watch yourself while you are eating" with determined fervor. Yeah, I know what you mean. No, I actually don't. The group left the stage to a hugely enthusiastic and sustained roar and the chandeliers slowly brightened as though an encore might ensue -- a rarity for Fillmore bills and a testament to the affection people have for the English Beat's sound and songs. (English Beat report by Wade Grubbs.
Personal bias: Despite growing up in Southeast London, buying all the band's singles on colored vinyl, and seeing Glenn Tilbrook and Jools Holland down the shops or the pub more than once, I had never seen Squeeze live before tonight. I don't know what took me so long, but I regret missing what must have been some stellar shows.