I was first introduced to The Selecter in a sort of happenstance way. The closest record store to me was The Exile on Main Street in Hamden, CT. They had a good selection of used CDs and in particular an unorganized box labeled “$5 Ska.” I used to pop in every now and again and dig through that box. I stumbled across The Selecter’s 1999 record Cruel Britannia. I knew the band’s name and I knew they were often cited as by other bands as an influence. I bought it on the spot and was hooked after one listen. It was from there I found my way to their more well-known releases such as 1980’s Too Much Pressure. Of all bands of the Two-Tone era, The Selecter grabbed me first. Much of it was thanks to singer Pauline Black’s distinctive voice (you’ll have to excuse me if I didn’t fall in love with Terry Hall’s voice the first time I heard it).
As I worked my way backwards through ska discography and history, I had gone in with the understanding that there were some bands I would just never see. This was the case for most of the two-tone era bands. Fast-forward a few years and I’ve since seen The Specials twice and The English Beat quite a few times. But, The Selecter didn’t show any signs of touring state-side until recently. (I’m still not holding my breath for Madness.)
While I was very excited when I first heard there was a Boston show on the tour, I’ll admit that I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the crowd. YouTube gave me confidence that the band was up to snuff, but who was still into The Selecter? The evening before they played to what appeared to be a packed house at Gramercy Theatre in New York City. Putting aside the bigger market, that show had one thing the Boston show didn’t: Local Support. (Big up my friends Rudie Crew for opening that show!)
I arrived just before 9 and Paradise was, well, fairly empty. Pauline Black was at the merch table so I took the opportunity to say hi and grab a photo some of the other guys from The New Limits. Pauline was very friendly and spoke to us like we’d always known her while we were each a tad starstruck. Supporting act The Pinstripes took the stage just after 9pm and I’m a big fan of theirs. A few people trickled in as The Pinstripes played with precision and energy. Anyone who was in the room was dancing. (Check out the Boston Globe’s profile of The Pinstripes!)
The place filled in a bit more and The Selecter hit the stage just after 10. Pauline was dressed in her signature dark suit and hat. The rest of the band sported shiny grey slim suits with the skinniest damn ties I’d ever seen (save for the two sax players which wore darker suits). Everyone just popped on stage. What happened next was a never ending exchange of energy between the band and the audience, members of the audience and each other, and band mates with each other. Particularly, Pauline and Gaps had this unbelievable chemistry between them. They were performing for each other just as much as they were performing for the audience, and it only made for a more engaging show. My girlfriend commented that Pauline had theatrical qualities about her. She was expressive and animated from start to finish and it only made you want to dance more. Her voice and range seem to have no limits, seamlessly jumping between the highs and the lows. It became very apparent why many people credit her as an influence.
The audience never quite grew to the venue’s capacity (Pauline even asked “next time, bring a friend!” in a sarcastic way only she could get away with). But the crowd in attendance was small and mighty. Gaps chatted about “stamina” throughout the performance and dammit Boston had it. Gaps deserves praise for setting the performance bar as high as I’ve ever seen it. He sang, he chatted, he danced, and sweated through every layer of clothing.
I’ve said to every member of every band I’ve ever been in, but The Selecter really exemplified it: Party on stage equals party off stage. If a suited up bari sax player can dance, so can you. Pauline closed by saying “This is what a two tone band sounds like!” I’d go a step further and say “this is what a ska band looks like and plays like.” And I’m not talking about the suits.
Below are photos and video I grabbed at the show. I’ll post more videos from the show if I find ’em. I really wanted to capture the energy of the show on video moreso than the music itself.
The Selecter – “Carry Go Bring Home” – 9/21/13, Paradise Rock Club
UPDATE 9/25/13 11:26 PM: YouTube user athiestpeace69 has uploaded a ton of great videos from the night. Here’s my favorite.
For those who are curious, I didn’t write down the set list (nor can I find it on setlist.fm), it was a really great blend of new and classic material. They played Too Much Pressure, On My Radio, and many of the tunes featured on their 1991 live album Out On the Streets: Live in London.