Review by Steven Stock
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
With banks of tiered seating rising steeply from stage level, The Egg’s Swyer Theatre offers great sightlines. As a dancehall, though, it’s far from ideal. This didn’t seem to trouble a near-capacity audience on the first Saturday in May. As the English Beat’s 90-minute set gained momentum, skanking revelers abandoned their seats and filled the small space between the stage and the first row.
The contagion spread faster than Zika, propelled to critical mass by the irresistible riddim of “I Confess.” By the time the seven-piece band launched into “Save It for Later,” just about everyone was up and gyrating – not always gracefully, but with unmistakable enthusiasm. I noticed something else remarkable as well – every single person in the damn building (even the sternest usher) was smiling.
What music has this power? On three albums from 1980-1982, the English Beat grafted guitarist Dave Wakeling’s West Midlands pop sensibility onto a buoyant foundation of Jamaican ska and reggae. Their cover of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown,” one of the seminal early releases on 2-Tone Records, established a template that the Beat refined on the subsequent I Just Can’t Stop It, Wha’ppen and Special Beat Service LPs.
As then, the dawn of the Reagan/Thatcher era, so at the Egg: drummer Nucci Cantrell and bassist Larry Young were mixed loud and clear to the fore, saxophonist Matt Morrish soloed on most every tune, and the dueling keyboards of Kevin Lum and Michael Railton drove the melodies and took the remaining solos. The formidably dreadlocked King Schascha did an admirable job filling Ranking Roger’s toaster slot, singing, rapping, exhorting the crowd and doing everything necessary to ensure that the show’s energy level never waned.