During its initial run in the late '70s and early '80s , the English Beat was distinguished not least by Saxa , its 50-year-old saxophonist playing alongside a group of 20- something lads. Beat frontman Dave Wakeling is now as old as Saxa was then, but at the Middle East on Wednesday, he proved that hitting the half-century mark is no impediment to playing sharp and propulsive ska.
Though billed as the English Beat, the band onstage shared no members with the original lineup beyond Wakeling. But he assembled a fine substitute that stumbled only on a streamlined ``Tenderness" (by his post-Beat band General Public) by toning down the Motown influence, thus jettisoning much of the song's charm. Otherwise, the band was fully capable of maintaining the subtleties in the polyrhythmic ``Ackee 1 2 3" and the slow, gentle ``Doors of Your Heart" while finding drive in mod pop anthems ``Best Friend" and ``Save It for Later."
Still, with a new lineup taking on the band's mantle, bringing along the Specials' Lynval Golding and the Selecter's Pauline Black as ringers was a shrewd decision. They turned a potentially tired all-star approach into a package tour for the 2 Tone record label that all three bands called home during the first wave of British ska.
In fact, songs by the Specials, not the Beat, bookended the evening, as a spirited Golding opened with ``A Message to You Rudy" and closed with ``Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)."
Black, meanwhile, showcased her underrated voice (a cross between Ronnie Spector's tremulousness and Martha Davis's angularity) on ``Missing Words" and ``On My Radio."
But it was Wakeling's outfit that provided the bulk of the songs, which could shift from the explicitly political ``Stand Down, Margaret" directly to the purely dance-oriented ``Ranking Full Stop" and have it seem the most natural progression in the world. Take away the nostalgia-tour trappings and what was left was an oft-overlooked band getting its due, even if it wasn't exactly the band onstage.
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