Back to the Beat

April 6, 2009

When it comes to buying concert tickets, I normally act swiftly and decisively. Seconds after tickets go on sale for a show I want to go to, I’m online, typing that captcha as quickly as I can decipher it. Or if I can avoid Ticketmaster’s outrageous service charges, I get to Zulu or Red Cat as fast as humanly possible.

The English Beat was a different story. I knew that the group was coming to Vancouver as part of its 30th anniversary tour, and I thought about buying tickets, but I didn’t do anything about it. This is despite the fact that music by the Beat figured prominently during my UBC days. Back then, I spent most of my free time in the Ubyssey student newspaper office. At the Ubyssey, we advocated for social justice in our reporting and otherwise partied hard. So it made total sense to listen to the English Beat – the multi-racial band perfected the art of combining political protest with insanely danceable ska rhythms on songs like “Stand Down Margaret” and “Two Swords”.

English Beat

Somehow I never saw the Beat in concert, which meant they were on my list of bands to see before I die. But I hesitated. One reason is because I now listen to a lot of whispery music of the Nick Drake/Bon Iver/Keren Ann variety, so I wasn’t sure if I could relate to the Beat’s exuberance anymore. As well, the version of the English Beat that performed at Richard’s last Saturday only had one original member: Dave Wakeling. While he was the Beat’s frontman, I’m always suspicious of “revival” bands, like the ones that play at the River Rock Casino. I worried that the English Beat without key original members Saxa or Ranking Roger just wouldn’t be the same. Then a friend told me she was going, and other friends said they would be there, and I was sufficiently swayed to buy a ticket the day before the gig.

About two songs in I knew I made the right decision. Wakeling and the band played a rousing version of “Tears of a Clown”, and that alone made my night. I’ve always loved the Beat’s cover of the Smokey Robinson tune, and it was a thrill to hear it live. They went on to play a substantial set of most of the Beat’s best-known songs, and also some by General Public. Aside from Wakeling (who was in good form), and Ranking Roger substitute toaster Antonee First Class, none of the band members stood out. But they did a credible job on the old material and got me to move a bit on the dancefloor. It brought back memories of dancing our asses off to mix tapes with Beat songs at sweaty house parties.

Cross one must-see band off the list. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of Nick Drake et al. for more quiet contemplation.


One comment

  1. Glad you enjoyed!! Hard not to get caught up by those tunes. I had a bit of wistful longing for Roger and Saxa – they were such an integral part of the group back in the day – but the current lineup certainly pulled things off well enough.

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