Reviews

'The English Beat Live at The US Festival'

Tellingly, the Beat's debut US Festival appearance occurred on the cusp of the New British Invasion.


The English Beat

The English Beat: Live at the US Festival 82 & 83

Distributor: Shout! Factory
Release date: 2012-09-18
Amazon
iTunes

The English Beat were perhaps the most celebrated of the so-called “2-Tone” bands to emerge from Britain’s fertile late '70s-early' 80s postpunk scene. I must admit that back in the day I wasn’t a fan of The Beat – as they were labeled across the pond – and catching them one Saturday on American Bandstand did little to change my view. My then-conservative tastes ran to slick, overproduced Top 40 pop and rock, and there was little room on my turntable for the group’s ragged, earthy vibe.

Still, the American rock scene was in serious flux at the time, and the English Beat – Dave Wakeling (vocals), Andy Cox (guitars), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums), Saxa (saxophone) -- were invited in 1982 to play at the inaugural US Festival, Apple Computer whiz kid Steve ('Woz') Wozniak’s rock extravaganza in the dusty desert burg of San Bernardino, California. The Woz presented a second edition in May of 1983, and The Beat delivered a well-received encore. These twin performances have been compiled in a new DVD titled The English Beat Live at the US Festival, which also includes a companion music disc.

Apart from Dick Clark’s TV perennial, and touring with bigger New Wave acts, the Beat’s appearance at this modern equivalent to Monterey Pop was likely the largest concert audience they ever faced, and the premiere show, on 3 September 1982, occurred at a propitious time for British pop; indeed, it was the cusp of what I call the New British Invasion, a fleeting era when countless New Wave artists from the British Isles became mainstays in the American Top 40, enabled by video-hungry MTV, an expanding economy, and the golly-gee compact disc. Although the Beat never became chart-toppers in America, they developed a devoted coterie of US fans, including this writer.

“Live at the US Festival” is a modestly-budgeted affair that doesn’t display the wide angle grandeur of Hal Ashby’s Let’s Spend The Night Together, which appropriately captured the Rolling Stones at their arena gods zenith. Still, the video images we see – and film wasn’t used – remain crystal-clear, and the group’s attire is the only clue we have that we’re viewing a period piece. Well, that and the conspicuous lack of tattoos among the pasty, mostly shirtless young males in the crowd.

Long-time Beat fans will recognize every tune here, and I smile hearing the snarky “Stand Down, Margaret”; when my late grandmother was alive, she misheard the lyric as “Stand Down, Mary! The song is a jab at the Iron Lady’s unilateral governing style in' 80s Britain, and in a moment of nervy hubris, the band finish up chanting “Stand down, Ronald”, but let’s remember that the Gipper was still unloved in his second year at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Vocally, however, co-lead Ranking Roger’s rich Caribbean-inflected toasting meshes perfectly with Dave Wakeling’s gravelly baritone honk. Other chestnuts include the jittery, menacing “Twist & Crawl”, the plaintive “I Confess”, and “Mirror in the Bathroom”.

The Beat’s tight musicianship is equally apparent in the frenetic “Two Swords”, not to mention the poppish, strings-laden “Save It for Later”, their highest-charting American single, and probably the only Beat number that casual Stateside fans would recognize. In fact, SIFL was one of the tunes they showcased in their American Bandstand debut.

The English Beat’s sophomore jaunt at the US Festival occurred the following spring, and, with only three studio albums to draw from – no new material was released in 1983 – many of the same songs are repeated. My ears insist that the rhythm section is more full-bodied in the 1982 concert, but the audience benefits from a video screen mounted above the stage during part deux, one laughably small by today’s measure.

Once again, “Stand Down, Margaret” is ironically paired with “Get a Job”, at a time when Ms. Thatcher was strong-arming unions and UK unemployment was devastating. My favorite Beat track, the joyous party anthem “Ranking Full Stop”, only surfaces in the second show, and “Jackpot” serves as an encore at both performances.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Beat last summer in a free evening concert in L.A.’s Pershing Square Park, and was unaware at the time that the group had splintered into two editions, one serving the UK, the other playing dates in America. Unfortunately, neither features crack players Cox and Steele, or Saxa – a man who performed with The Beatles in their Liverpool barroom beginnings -- but thankfully, Dave Wakeling, now a US resident, was present in the sextet on stage. The purist – and armchair nostalgist in me laments not experiencing the original lineup, but the fact is I never saw them in their heyday. Still, I do agree that the sweaty, interactive immediacy of the live gig is very difficult to capture on camera and watching Live at The US Festival doesn’t change my mind.

But even more – and call me a philistine if you must – I prefer their recordings to the live show. There’s a crisp, funky flavor – enhanced by stellar studio acoustics – to their albums that make them fresh and exciting 30 years on. In fact, the CD included in this ‘package’ – the sole extra we’re granted – is less than enthralling for that very reason; the sonics seem rather muddy alongside my pristine greatest hits anthology. I’ll always be an aficionado of this band, but I suspect that The English Beat Live at the US Festival will only encourage the most hardcore fans to get up and dagger.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.

Music

'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.

Music

IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".

Music

Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.

Music

Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.

Music

Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.

Music

Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.