Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Specials reviewed

Photos by Volume/Dalla Pickering.
Here's my review of The Specials gig last Tuesday, published in this week's issue of Volume  Magazine. Thanks, Sam!

"I had misgivings about seeing The Specials in a tin shed on the waterfront, but with a sizeable crowd in there to soak up the sound it worked surprisingly well (not unlike the dance parties in the sheds next to the old Auckland railway station back in the 1990s - Massive Attack, anyone?) It was gloomy, dark and dusty - even Terry Hall pointed out how dusty it was, glancing up at the rafters - but it suited the music.

Six of the original seven members of The Specials reunited in 2009 and set off on a 30th anniversary tour that bought them here for the first time (minus founder and main songwriter Jerry Dammers). That sold-out show was at the truly awful Logan Campbell Centre (aka the Logan Concrete Centre) and somehow they managed to overcome the notoriously bad acoustics of that rustic barn.

The opening act this time was local '80s ska outfit The Newmatics, who have done the occasional reunion show in recent years. This one, unlike their previous reunions, lacked a number of original members and also reconfigured the original lineup, adding a keyboard player and a full horn section. The Newmatics without powerhouse drummer Benny Staples? Ahem. Their brief set took in spirited versions of classics like Doobie Do Boy, Judas and Riot Squad, and they acquitted themselves well enough.

Queuing for half an hour for a beer didn't sound like much fun, and then I hear the beer ran out before The Specials even hit the stage. That's some poor planning. How could you fail to predict that a crowd of former mods and punks would be VERY THIRSTY?

Finally, the horrible fluorescent house lights go out, the drums start pounding, and then The Specials bound onstage, ripping into Do the Dog. It's glorious. What follows is every song off their first album: throw in Gangsters and A Message to You, Rudy, and you have yourself a serious dance party.

The band look very dapper, dressed in black for the last show on this tour, after five gigs in Australia. There's the front line of vocalists Lynval Golding, Neville Staples and Terry Hall, super cool guitarist Roddy Radiation, and the killer rhythm section of Horace Panter and John Bradbury, with Nik Torp in for Dammers on keys.

Lynval dedicates their song Poor Little Rich Girl to Amy Winehouse, a song she covered. Lynval tells the crowd Winehouse passed away on his birthday last year.

Their horn section and percussionist join the band onstage for Stupid Marriage, with Hall dropping in the lyric "Like a virgin", which was vaguely postmodern and a little unsettling. Terry Hall as Madonna? After the song finishes he tells the crowd, "I will probably slip into some Leo Sayer a bit later on this evening..."

We get Concrete Jungle, and Friday Night, Saturday Morning, and then the droll Mr Hall introduces International Jet Set: "This is from our difficult 2nd album - it was so fuckin' difficult that we didn't talk to each other for 25 years!" It's a groovy rendition, but once it's done, Lynval confesses, "We wrote that 30 years ago and it's a nice tune, but I just can't dance to it."

They wrap up their set with Too Much Too Young and Enjoy Yourself, before exiting the stage. This crowd ain't going nowhere though, and start cheering for more.

The band return for an encore and Lynval apologises to us: "This is only our second time in New Zealand, and I'm sorry it took us 30 years to get down here - we should have come ages ago". We get Little Bitch, then You're Wondering Now. The song finishes with the band stopping the music and leading the crowd in a singalong. Terry says, "Bye, thanks, lots of love" and they're off.

The glaring omission was Ghost Town. Why? The rumour was noise complaints from nearby apartment dwellers on Quay St, and the band had to cut the encore short by one song. At 10.30pm. It doesn't bode well for the upcoming KRS-One show next door in The Cloud, essentially a tent with zero soundproofing. However, the promoter said noise wasn't an issue. The venue had a 10.30pm curfew and song choice was the band's decision. Go figure.

The Specials served up note-perfect renditions of their classics, and they had a lot of fun doing it - it was infectious. Thirty years on, those songs still come across as joyful, clever, danceable, and as much fun as they ever did.

Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think!

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