English Beat at Johnny D’s in Somerville — A Review

Antonee First Class (left), and Dave Wakeling of the English Beat
Antonee First Class (left), and Dave Wakeling of the English Beat
The English Beat again graced the stage of Johnny D’s in Somerville. The mellow round tones of Matt Morrish’s (Sax/Vocals) sax and the jangly street sound of steel drums from Kevin Lum’s (Keys/Vocals) Korg predominated the room. They started the night out with a rocksteady version of “Rough Rider,” the Prince Buster cover. Dave Wakeling (Lead vocals/Guitar) commented that the room felt like a submarine.

Yeah, the ceilings are low at Johnny D’s, but it makes for an intimate space and the sound isn’t overpoweringly loud. After all, some people were eating supper. But the dance floor filled up quick for “Hands Off She’s Mine.” Well dressed teds next to punks and regular folks in jeans and tees stomped to “Twist and Crawl.” A shout out to all, and Wakeling waved at the audience. Antonee First Class (Toaster) told us it doesn’t matter who you are or if you remember the 1980’s. The younger ones think they started it. Wakeling added The 1980’s were the best two or three years of his life. He said, if we could help him remember, he’d take us there, and went right into, you guessed it, The Staple Singers cover “I’ll Take You There.”

After that soulful number the band played the seminal “I Confess.” The song turned into a sing along, and Wakeling added a little scat-rap ending with First Class reaching out to the crowd, in the chant “hey.”

As the set progressed, they played hit after hit flawlessly, and First Class called “all the rude boys say yo,” with the audience supplying a mighty call back. Wakeling added, “I’m gonna need fucking heart pills for this,” as First Class called “all the ladies scream!”

The fun banter continued with Wakeling telling us a tale of his boyhood days in Birmingham. Staggering home after pints of Guinness on any given rainy Tuesday dreaming of girls where he wrote “Sooner or Later.” They followed that with “Stand Down Margret,” wonderfully, Wakeling presented the two fingered salute for ‘ol Maggie. Then getting a little less political, they broke into “Best Friend.” The place was jumping. Even this old girl was skanking. They did a terrific rendition of Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” their highest charting single release ever. Which is hard to believe since every tune is practically a pop standard.

Wakeling switched back and forth from his iconic teardrop Vox to his red Fender. The Vox replacement is yellow with a Beat airplane sticker on it. The “real” one, as I understand it, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year and has taken it’s place next to Jimi Hendrix’s axe.

Roger Bueno (Bass/Vocals) asked me to order him a Jack and Coke, and I eventually saw the drink poised and vibrating on the back of the bass rig. They did a new number followed by “Too Nice To Talk To,” in quick secession. The newer material offered a marked change in sound with heavy bass, no sax or reggae steel drums ringing out, but nice harmonies as there are on many a Dave Wakeling tune.

One of our party came back and reported that in the men’s room there was a pissed off guy in a kilt. Seemed fitting that the next tune had First Class calling “a brand new dance called the tolerance,” and showing us how to get ‘er done, dancing up a storm on stage. We hoped Mr. Kilt was listening and dancing.

“Soul Salvation,” had Wakeling saying “life is a miracle, life is a fucking miracle,” and we mellowed out with a taste of piano and whistling as they did the General Public number “Tenderness.” Another killer drum solo by Rhythmm Epkins (Drums/Vocals) followed with a final rap about finding what you need in Somerville, and our evening ended with “Ranking Full Stop,” and “Mirror in the Bathroom.” Two hours of solid playing, no encore, and no opener, and no stopping.

Just in case you want to know who’s who and what’s what: the English Beat’s front man Dave Wakeling (Lead Vocals/Guitar) is the only original member in the US version of the 2-Tone ska band. In the alternate universe of the UK, another version of the same band exists called The Beat fronted by original member Ranking Roger (Toaster). The English Beat is touring the US in a giant bus. Look for it near you.

A new box set called “The Complete Beat,” a five-disc set containing expanded remastered versions of all three of the group’s albums, 1980’s “I Just Can’t Stop It,” 1981’s “Wha’ppen?” and 1982’s “Special Beat Service,” was released plus a two-disc collection of “Bonus Beat” material that contains a CD of 12” mixes and dubs and a disc of recordings from the Peel Sessions and four cuts live from a November 1982 gig in Boston.

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