“Iconic” is a term that can get bandied about willy-nilly, especially when it comes to artists of the various genres of popular music. When it comes to the 1980’s 2-Tone ska movement, however, it is a word that justifiably applies to Dave Wakeling, leader of The English Beat.
Together with Madness and The Specials, The Beat — known as “The English Beat” in the US — helped to create a sound that defined one era and influenced another when the likes of No Doubt, Sublime, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and others brought ska back to the popular/alternative music forefront a decade or so later. If that legacy and all his Gold Records aren’t enough proof of Mr. Wakeling’s importance, maybe this is: his Vox Teardrop guitar was donated to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 and displayed next to those of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, among others.
Some former hit makers seem to begrudge the title “icon” or “legend”, always trying to push their latest musical offerings to prove some kind of ongoing relevance. Mr. Wakeling not only doesn’t seem to mind the label, he embraces it, and by doing so, presents a compelling case for his continued relevance even when limiting his sets to his music from the 80’s as he has been doing for the past few years.
This was certainly the case with The English Beat’s latest appearance at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach just before the New Year. Their set of familiar Beat and General Public classics were done with an easy-going sense of confidence and unabashed fun.
You’d expect that with bouncy songs like “Hands Off, She’s Mine,” “Tears of a Clown,” or “Sole Salvation,” or even suggestive bits like “Rough Rider” and “I’ll Take You There.” But even songs like “Stand Down Margaret,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” and “I Confess” were absent of any of the angst, melancholy, or political undertones that led to their formation — and that was perfectly fine. By the time they played “Save it for Later” at about the midway point of the evening, the whole room-full of people was bouncing with abandon. The evening had one big, long, continuous party atmosphere and nothing was going to get in the way for two hours until the final strains of “Mirror in the Bathroom” died out.
None of it would have worked without Mr. Wakeling. After all these years, he continues to be in top form: his voice still sounds great, and his stage presence remains infectious. He might be the only original member of The English Beat still left on this side of the Atlantic Ocean (former band mates Ranking Roger and Everett Morton still play in Europe as “The Beat,” sans addition of “English” to the moniker), but he has always been the most important one.
He managed to alter the songs up just enough to keep them fresh — changing up tempos here, stretching out instrumental solos there — without doing anything to distort them. The many loyal fans in attendance clearly appreciated everything offered up to them, singing along to all the songs at full voice and being encouraged to banter with Mr. Wakeling and the band on a repeated basis.
The rest of the 21st Century version of The English Beat contributed well enough. Most notable among them was Antonee First Class, the band’s toaster. He provided some colorful interludes during breaks in between songs, the longest of which (“Does anyone remember the Nineteen Eight Ohs . . . “) would be familiar to anyone who’s seen them lately, but is still a crowd-pleaser regardless.
The band rarely draws the crowds of thousands that used to flock to see them, but even today, they typically play larger venues than Saint Rocke and to see them there never ceases to be a treat. Mr. Wakeling and crew are veritable regulars at this very intimate venue, and he plays there with the frequency and casualness of the So Cal local that he has been for some time. I wished that the person manning the sound mixing board turned up the vocals and turned down the keyboard input, but all-in-all, it was a very good night.
The opening act for the evening was Bad Apples from nearby Wilmington. Their PR material bills them as a fusion of rock, ska, reggae, punk, and more, but on this night, their sound was a pleasant, if not particularly distinctive, brand of straight-up reggae with just a hint of rock-steady thrown in. The bulk of the crowd who had arrived early enough to catch them was politely appreciative.
The English Beat: December 29, 2012; Saint Rocke (Hermosa Beach, CA)
Dave Wakeling: Lead Vocals/Guitar
Rhythmm Epkins: Drums/Vocals
Antonee First Class: Toaster
Matt Morrish: Sax/Vocals
Kevin Lum: Keys/Vocals
Roger Bueno: Bass/Vocals
Tears of a Clown
Hands Off, She’s Mine
Twist and Crawl
I’ll Take you There
Save It For Later
Can’t Get Used to Losing You
Whine and Grine/ Stand Down Margaret
Never You Done That
Ranking Full Stop/Mirror in the Bathroom
- The English Beat at Sainte Rocke: CK Dexter Haven
- Drawing of “Beat Girl 2012” by Holly G.