Reviews

The English Beat: In Concert at the Royal Festival Hall [DVD]

Charlotte Robinson

Although usually lumped in with the ska revival bands, the English Beat's exhilarating blend of pop hooks, reggae rhythms, jazzy sax breaks, and punky attitude is difficult enough to categorize that they wouldn't stand a chance on today's genre-driven radio or MTV.


The English Beat

In Concert at the Royal Festival Hall [DVD]

Label: Music Video Distributors
US Release Date: 2005-08-23
UK Release Date: 2005-03-28
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

The new wave explosion of the late '70s and early '80s was a rare time when just about any style of music could get on the radio. Sure, the open attitude spawned lots of dodgy bands, but it also meant that groups like the English Beat got a chance with mainstream audiences. Although usually lumped in with the ska revival bands, the English Beat's exhilarating blend of pop hooks, reggae rhythms, jazzy sax breaks, and punky attitude is difficult enough to categorize that they wouldn't stand a chance on today's genre-driven radio or MTV. Known simply as the Beat in their native UK, the band released three classic albums -- I Just Can't Stop It (1980), Wha'ppen? (1981), and Special Beat Service (1982) -- scoring minor hits like "Mirror in the Bathroom", "Save It for Later", and "Best Friend". But at the height of their success in 1983, the Birmingham band's singers, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, left to form General Public. Other splinter groups followed: Saxa (saxophone) and Everett Morton (drums) created International Beat; guitarist Andy Cox and bassist David Steele formed Fine Young Cannibals; and after General Public's breakup, Roger briefly went solo before putting together Special Beat.

In recent years, Dave Wakeling has toured America playing Beat and General Public tunes, while Roger and a few of the others performed Beat hits in the UK as Twist and Crawl. It's a bit like the dueling versions of the Beach Boys, except that no one is suing anyone else, and the formation of the two separate entities is due more to geography than anything else. That's why, when Mojo magazine asked the band to reform for a one-off gig in London, everyone except the seemingly nostalgia-free Steele and Cox was onboard. The resulting February 2003 show, along with a detailed biography and a 47-minute interview with Morton, Roger, and keyboardist Dave Blockhead, comprise the band's new -- hell, first -- DVD.

Featuring 20 songs from all three of the band's albums (plus a solo Saxa performing "Stranger on the Shore"), the show is full of fan favorites, even if "I Confess" is conspicuously absent. For those, like me, who have only seen Wakeling in concert, it will be a treat to hear so many of the songs ("Spar wid Me" and "Rough Rider", for instance) that would be impossible to perform without Ranking Roger. Oddly though, Roger's presence seems to tame Wakeling. While Wakeling was jovial, chatty, and animated on the occasions I've seen him live, here he seems restrained, possibly because it's hard not to be upstaged by Roger, who has aged hardly a day, and leaps around the stage like a rabbit on uppers. The band, augmented by Neil Deathridge on guitar, Andy Pearson on bass, and a guest vocal on "Mirror in the Bathroom" by Roger's son, Ranking Junior, is in fine form throughout. Mostly, they turn out versions of songs similar to those on their records, although they slow down "Doors of Your Heart" to an even mellower groove while speeding up "Click Click" to a frantic pace. "Stand Down Margaret" gets updated with a chorus of "Stand down Georgie, stand down please / Stand down Tony".

As for the technical (i.e. nonperformance) stuff, the 5.1 sound of the concert footage is high-quality, and the picture is clear, although it's too dark at times (especially against Wakeling's dark outfit). There aren't many crowd shots, for better or worse, and unfortunately not much of Blockhead. Saxa's weird, incoherent rambling between encores could have been edited out, but I guess it's fun to see the show as the audience saw it, warts and all. The interview with Ranking Roger, Blockhead, and Everett Morton, however, doesn't have warts so much as a gigantic mole like the one Fred Savage sported in Goldmember, a flaw so obscene that you can't ignore it: The audio and video are so poorly synced that the film runs for two minutes after the audio ends. The effect is so disorienting that it makes watching a very informative interview painful. This is unfortunate, because over the course of the 47-minute conversation, the band members discuss their entire history, including Roger's candid admission that he and Dave Wakeling left the band for purely economic reasons, sending a letter to notify the others. The interview also provides the band plenty of opportunities to deny that they are a ska band, opting instead for the mantra, "We're a dance band." Well, whatever they are, I love 'em.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

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.