Part of the appeal of The English Beat in 2012 is nostalgia, no question. But nostalgia has its limits for music fans, and if a band can’t deliver on stage, no amount of fond memories will keep people buying tickets.
The English Beat’s shows are full of songs we all remember from the ’80s–that’s the nostalgia part. But singer/guitarist Dave Wakeling and his gang of hired guns/replacement Beaters have a vibrant touring life 30 years later because they are consummate pros who throw down an energetic, joyful noise EVERY time they hit a stage.
Six months ago I saw the band play under streetlights on a cramped flatbed truck in a downtown Las Vegas bar’s parking lot at 3 a.m., and Friday in Salt Lake City they played the slick confines of The Depot, complete with a light show, pretty pristine sound and a spacious stage. And Wakeling et al were equally at home in both situations, delivering song after song of timeless hooks, all led by Wakeling’s distinct ska-tinged guitar-jangle and his voice that has stayed as strong as it was when he was a kid.
I actually listen to the English Beat more now than I ever did when the band hit out of England in the early ’80s, and that’s because of their regular visits to SLC for the past decade or so. Gigs at the Zephyr, the old Velvet Room (now Elevate), the short-lived Palladium and other area joints, to crowds big and small, all have been stellar. Friday night at The Depot was no different.
The Beat started with the easy grooves of “Rough Rider,” and immediately moved into their hyperactive cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown.” “Hands Off She’s Mine” and “Twist and Crawl” led to another cover, the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.”
The dance floor was packed from the get-go, another typical occurrence at a Beat show, and the gig picked up steam through “I Confess,” “Save It for Later” and the potent one-two of “Whine and Grind” and “Stand Down Margaret.”
Throughout, the band was super-tight, clear evidence of how many shows these guys play together. Antonee First Class is a fine hype man, taking on the toaster role in this version of The English Beat made famous in the original lineup by Ranking Roger. And Matt Morrish’s saxophone blasts proved once again that most bands would be better off with at least one horn player.
The remainder of the show was comfortable trip through a slew of favorites, including a couple of songs from Wakeling’s post-Beat band General Public (“Never You Done That” and “Tenderness”), as well as “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “Best Friend” and “Mirror in the Bathroom.”
In the end, it was more than 90 minutes of great songs and good vibes courtesy of Wakeling’s sly and silly one-liners and puns thrown out in between. That kind of night never gets old.