No one was more surprised than me to walk up to the doors of Brighton Music Hall and see that The English Beat show was sold out. Really? The English Beat? In 2017? I was floored. Local support from Pressure Cooker and DJ Panda was added pretty late and the $35 was unlikely to draw in newer fans making a sold out house all the more impressive.
I arrived shortly after 7 and there was already a line at the door to get patted down and pick up tickets. DJ Panda was spinning his signature blend of strictly vinyl rock n roll, transitioning to ska and rocksteady classics as the night went on.
The room already felt full when Pressure Cooker went on at 8. I love this band, but they don’t play as often as I would like. They played a short, 30-minute set of traditional ska, rocksteady, and reggae. Craig Akira Fujita’s distinctive voice crooned and swayed while their bold, pitch perfect horn section was probably having more fun than anyone else in the room. The only thing that was missing was their usual keyboard player. The sub they had for the night was great, but I missed Zack Brine’s unique style that adds so much to the package.
Between sets, I made the mistake of going to get a beer. I lost my space close to the front and didn’t stand a chance of getting back there. The place had reached full capacity and it felt like it. You could barely get up and down the walkway that hugs the right side of the house. I don’t remember the last time I was at a show that was this crowded.
I’ve seen Dave Wakeling’s English Beat several times but not since moving to Boston. The lineup has shifted and changed but he’s always got a pro group of musicians surrounding him. For the first time I had ever seen, he had two keyboard players, versus of just a single keyboard and a second guitar. While I missed the doubled guitar parts that make the classic English Beat recordings what they were, the sound in total was still full and it was good to hear a new spin on those songs. To the best of my knowledge, Wakeling has had the same steady saxophone player for years now and you could tell they were at home with each other.
The Beat’s MC and hypeman was King Schascha who has been gracing the band with his presence at least since I had last seem them 5 or 6 years ago. I would suggest that there might be challenge in filling the role once occupied by Rankin’ Roger (and for many fans, the voice they really expect), but Schascha was so comfortable you’d never know. He effortlessly played off of Dave’s Vocals, chatting verses, and in several spaces toasting through entire songs. My only complaint is that he spent so much time hyping Dave when he really could have stolen the show if he wanted. Dave has the witty, dry British thing down, but Schascha was the lead showman, and dare I say, the King that night.
The mix of tunes was what you might expect, primarily Beat classics with some general public songs thrown in for good measure. The band has been sitting on a new record for quite some time following a PledgeMusic campaign. Supposedly that record will be released this year. They played a few tracks from that forthcoming release which went over surprisingly well with audiences given the reactions legacy bands usually get when they try to sneak new material into a set. While it wasn’t my first time seeing the Beat, I’m always caught off guard by the reaction to their crossover pop tunes like “Save It For Later.” This song and others were of course the big hits, so it only surprises me because I’m so in love with the ska, reggae, and rocksteady material. This show more than the past, it felt like the band really leaned into the nostalgia bit, reminiscing with the audience about their high school and twenty-something years. It didn’t speak to me but the crowd ate it up.
Do yourself a favor and get out to an English Beat show while Mr. Wakeling is still making the rounds. Rankin’ Roger has his own version of the Beat touring in the UK and I hope to see them just the same! It’s so clear they love what they do and it comes across in every performance.