The Specials started with “Do The Dog.” The crush began almost immediately, but I managed to stay in front of Lynval Golding handling back-up vocals and rhythm guitar and stepping in for Neville Staple on lyrics like “Not the Donkey.” We were treated to his front and center skank, guitar strapped over his rude boy sharp black suit and porkpie hat from the start. He was convivial, making eye contact with the audience. “Do The Dog” was directly followed up by “Dawning Of A New Era” and “Gangsters.”
MIA were Jerry Dammers (keyboards and writer) and Neville Staple (vocals, dancing, percussion) who made up a goodly portion of the ska element of the band. We were left with five of the original seven, but that didn’t stop the 2-tone sound from working its magic.
The stagecraft was minimal. The Specials giant banner in the back, and the lighting was good, and not particularity moody. Occasional hot white would flash the audience, so the band had a good look at us as well. Terry Hall, the lead singer, was in good form, but he was a reticent front man. He shrank from the skank, not manic in the least, so the meds must be working. Egalitarian and slightly apologetic, he stood back by John Bradbury at the drum kit or near the horn section whenever possible, not going nuts dancing. He ran off stage a couple of times, going a bit TMI with reporting he had to pee, then threw bottled water to the audience, funning with one person calling them too ugly to have any water. Later in the show Hall confessed it would bother him all night that he called him ugly. He made up for it saying “he’s lovely, actually, but ugly,” then went on to offer him fruit, confirming if he liked bananas, strawberries and so forth all the way to cumquats and gooseberries. Okay, maybe not gooseberries.
The sound was excellent, except for a few minutes when things got oddly muddy, the bass and rhythm guitar pitched up too loud and we lost Golding’s vocals. Golding stepped out from behind his music stand, turned a knob on his glitter encrusted starburst guitar, looked fiercely at the soundboard and the sound popped back into place and the rock steady beat held-fast.
John Bradbury was kicking the shit out of his kit, and his soloing was superb. The horn section was terrific, even sans Motown moves, and of course, Horace Panter (bass) and Roddy “Radiation” Byers (lead guitar, vocals) were fantastic and even came over to hang with Golding for a few solos, so I got to see them up close and personal for a minute. They were each cheeky in their own way and fun. Byers even mocked his rockstar moves momentarily with his low slung guitar and a tongue-in-cheek eye-roll and shrug before heading back to his microphone.
The moshing got wild with elbows and knees on “Monkey Man,” but after “Rat Race” Golding took a moment to talk about the marathon bombings in Boston and race relations, which naturally led to “Why?” and “It Doesn’t Make It Alright” with its direct discussion of physical attacks because of color. “Concrete Jungle,” had everyone clapping, Nik Torp, the “new” keyboardist, offered up a great Hammond B-3 at the start of “Blank Expression.” “Stereotypes,” and “It’s Up To You,” were spot on and had the audience singing and stomping if not skanking along, though it was tight for a true skank. The crowd went nuts with the first notes of Golding’s harmonica on “A Message To You (Rudy)” and again on “Too Much Too Young,” and a wonderful rendition of “Ghost Town.” The show ended with “Enjoy Yourself” and “You’re Wondering Now (The End)” for encores. The Specials are an important band, still sending a politically relevant message of revolution, integration, ending poverty and not giving up on the dream of true equality and brotherly love. What a great message, and what a great show. Keep the peace in the band boys, and keep going because we still need you.