Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Specials- Brixton Academy 31/10/11

Halloween. A night of witches, ghosts and, of course, 70's Ska. So in line with tradition, we* set off down to Brixton for a Halloween better than collecting sweets. This is the third tour The Specials have done since they reunited with their original line up and the second time I've seen them. As with the first time, the audience is always really something special. You can't get much better than an audience made up of a mix of drunk 50 year old skinheads and their children. Believe me, you can't.

By The Rivers
The first support band, Stone Foundation, failed to excite the crowd with their mix of downbeat Northern Soul, but the crowd turned back on for the second support By The Rivers. One of the few bands around who can say they're a true Ska band AND under 21, it was brilliant to see a band play with such enthusiasm. They not only had brilliant songs (including new single "One Word") but were a tight live band who enjoyed supporting their heroes. Definitely have a little listen.

The fitting opening of a clip montage of news stories since The Specials formed set the tone and made you realise how relevant The Specials still are. The clips of 80's riots were so similar to that of the recent summer ones it's weird to watch. After fading out to a picture of David Cameron (to much booing) the band strolled on starting with the song that set it all off "Gangsters". The first thing you notice when watching the band, is how much energy they still have, despite approaching 50. They literally do not stop running around. You know how good you are live when your rhythm guitarist can do the running man whilst playing. This tornado of crazy Ska brilliance all centers round the calm, and grumpy, figure of singer, Terry Hall. Being the Jack Dee of frontmen, he literally does not move from his mic stand the entire show (Sample banter includes grumbling about the use of "Ghost Town" on Strictly Come Dancing and calling Bono a twat). If he does move, he drags his stand around with him like a prisoner with a ball on a chain. And it's completely brilliant and what you'd expect from him.

Things take a weird turn midway through the set when a string section walk on. It looks odd and seems completely unnecessary. They only seem to replace the parts the brass section would have played. It seems completely self indulgent and a result of a lot more income. It isn't the only thing that makes the tour seem like an excuse to fill their bands pockets. The snazzy new lighting rig and projector must have been funded from somewhere, and I have a sneaking suspicion it was from the live CD's they were flogging in the foyer £20. The new purchases didn't even seem to add at all to the show and instead seemed more to bemuse.

Having said all of this it all came together during "Ghost Town" arguably the bands best song, and definitely their biggest. Both brass and strings came on, creating a massive sound for the song, and a brilliant background projection of black and white skyscrapers all just made the song complete. It was definitely the high point of the show and made you understand why they had made all these changes. Had I forked out £20 for a live CD, I would be listening to that track on repeat.

My poor attempt at photography
This wasn't the only song that benefited from extra staging. During "Stupid Marridge" Terry Hall moved next to the drum riser whilst "Judge Roughneck" grilled him for "breaking his girlfriends property!" They acted out the courtroom the song creates. "Nightclub" used the new lighting rig to full effect, creating a perfect, well, nightclub. The extra thought and theatre really made these songs special.

Despite the slightly odd sections and relentless merchandise selling, this show was really brilliant, perhaps because of this new income. Their songs are such classics that simply performing them would have been enough, so the energy and brilliance of the performance makes it amazing to watch. They are such a tight live band and their experience shows, but also their want to move forward and not stagnate. The band still love playing together and they interact so amazingly. We're told half way through that "We'll still be doing this in 2030" and by this performance they're obviously still enjoying themselves and it's definitely not too late yet.

*we being me and William James who got me the tickets for my birthday because he loves me

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