The Band: The English Beat, Saturday January 7 2012. The Beat was an English ska revival band formed in the late ’70s, whose upbeat mix of ska, pop, reggae, and punk fueled every single college party held in the 1980s. They broke up after their third album in 1982 and members started splinter bands like General Public and Fine Young Cannibals, but at some point in the mid Aughties, original lead singer Dave Wakeling re-formed a US version of the band, The English Beat. It’s not to be confused with the current UK version The Beat, fronted by Ranking Roger and original drummer Everett Morton. So we saw Wakeling’s The English Beat, emphasis on “the,” as in “singular,” as in Dave Wakeling was the only original player onstage.
The Venue: Bimbo’s 365 Club, San Francisco. Why, hello, 1957. You’re looking well. Bimbo’s is a North Beach institution and may in fact be a time machine. Everything inside screams “Rat Pack,” from the red velvet Frenchified awnings to pastel paintings of wide eyed topless mermaids to bartenders in sharp red jackets. But my favorite part was the attendant in the ladies room, who maintains order in the line, hands out paper towels and Blow Pops, and beckons women into the inner sanctum with “Seating for one! Seating for one!”
The Company: The fact that I met Diana at church does not change my contention that if I needed a getaway driver, she and her blue minivan would be my first call. She may be all gracious and lovely on the outside, what with her long curly locks and wardrobe of feminine dresses. But I can tell that she came up wearing a white leather motorcycle jacket and knowing how to turn AquaNet into a blowtorch. She was the one who pointed out the bartender who looked like the waiter from “The Shining.”
The Crowd: Can we review a few basics of Polite Concert Crowd Behavior here?
One: Be nice to the people around you. Even if it a sweaty, mosh pit kind of a show, a little apologetic smile to the person you just knocked into will do wonders. You’re all there because you want to have fun, yes? Even the quorum of 50-something former frat buddies who couldn’t stop high-fiving each other over our heads was charming, in that they were so clearly relishing their shared musical past. So when a woman jostled me from behind and I stumbled backwards and she put her perfectly manicured finger up in my face and said, “Do NOT push me again!” I had to wonder if she and her Talbot’s ensemble had ever been to a live concert before. Where is the tenderness, lady?
Two: Don’t talk throughout the show, if you are within three feet of the lead singer’s mic stand. Dave Wakeling, in particular, does not tolerate this behavior. Dave Wakeling will stop a song, point at an audience member, and say, “Are you having a nice salon down there? You don’t even realize I’m talking about you, do you? You’re still talking.” Also, if you are trying to stop the people around you from dancing to the English Beat because you do not like to be danced around, Dave Wakeling will consider this a song-stop-worthy moment and will publicly berate you.
Three: Yes, it’s dark, it’s close quarters, and it will be impossible to prove. But do not eat burritos before a show. The people standing around with their Rude Boy tshirts pulled up to cover their noses thank you.
Other than that: everybody happy, everybody dancing, everybody free. If that’s not an English Beat lyric, it at least describes their crowd.
The Opening Act: Perfectly suited for a nostalgic nightclub and an English Beat-loving crowd, The Inciters is an 11-piece ensemble that performs ’60s soul with a 21st century twist. Tons of brass, three sexy and fabulous tattooed female singers, and a drummer who looks like maybe he thinks he is in Weezer, they whipped the crowd up into a frenzy. If you are planning to invite me to a wedding sometime in the next few years, please suck up the financial hit and book this band.
Age Humiliation Factor: Strangely gratifying.
Though there were some youngsters in the crowd, it definitely skewed towards original fans. And those original fans brought the energy. There was pogoing, there was refrain-singing, there was no slowdown at all during the 2+ hour show. I think if our 20 year old selves could have taken a quick glimpse into the future at our over-40 selves, they would have been proud, or at least less horrified.
And speaking of proud – I managed to stay out in the City until 1 am and not even notice what time it was until I got home. That has got to cancel out at least one night where I fell asleep before 9.
Cool Factor: High.
What’s your favorite English Beat song? Oh, they played that! Yes, and that one too. And also that one by General Public! To hear all those songs sung by Dave Wakeling, whose voice is virtually unchanged from the early ’80s, even if there is slightly more of him to love – what a treat. Also, if I weren’t so committed to my intensive piano study right now, I would go buy myself a Vox Teardrop guitar. Today.
Worth Hiring the Sitter? Better yet, send them on a sleepover so you can stay out late.
Aside from the Fembot who pushed me, every single person in the crowd was beaming from ear to ear throughout the show. And that includes Wakeling – he just seemed to be having a blast, surrounded by talented musicians who replicate the original English Beat sound perfectly. You get the strong sense that Wakeling can’t believe his luck to still be doing what he loves. With many of the numbers prefaced with, “And then I stumbled home, drank twelve Guinness, and wrote this song,” it made sense that he dedicated one song to his liver (can’t remember if it was “Sorry” or “Sole Salvation.”) There were a couple of political jabs (“Here’s ‘I Confess’ for Rick ‘Sanctimonious’ Santorum!” and of course “Stand Down Margaret” for Mrs. Thatcher), and there was shameless flirtation with the ladies in the crowd. I’d be hard pressed to say who had more fun on Saturday, the band or the audience.
Whether you’re new to the Beat or just curious to see if they’re as good as you remembered back in the mythical Day, it’s well worth pushing up to the front of the crowd and staying out past your bedtime.