Reel Big Fish
The English Beat
The Grand Ballroom at the Regency
San Francisco, CA
August 3, 2009
Senior Ska Correspondent Brian Griset
The English Beat: 30th Anniversary
In the late 1970s in England, bands like The Specials, Selector, Madness, Bad Manners and the English Beat combined ska, reggae, pop and punk to create a joyful reggae sound that was just danceable awesome music, often referred to as 2 Tone ska: the second wave of ska music. The English Beat had great success in the UK with a handful of hit singles. In addition to their UK popularity, the band found a solid base of young American fans eager to dance after tours with the biggest acts of the 80's including the Police, Talking Heads, and David Bowie.
Lead singer and guitarist, Dave Wakeling is the only original member of the band left but he has surrounded himself with very capable, younger musicians in order to recreate the Beat’s signature sound.
The song list was a veritable greatest hits collection of 2 Tone ska including "Hands Off She's Mine," "Twist And Crawl," "Rankin Full Stop," "Click Click," and "Can't Get Used To Losing You." "Mirror In The Bathroom," a song many believe refers to cocaine addiction, was a rollicking dancer. During the classic "Save It For Later," the Beat broke into the I-didn't-see-it-coming moment of the show playing a few verses of Pearl Jam's "Betterman." When two musical worlds collide like this, everybody wins.
The band also played three General Public songs, a later band of Wakeling’s, including "I'll Take You There," and the sing-songy hit "Tenderness." Overall their set was good fun. However, Wakeling seemed a bit bored, tired and contrite with his comments. For me, the show brought back fantastic memories of my twelve times seeing the movie ‘Dance Craze’ about 2 Tone Ska and enjoying the Beat, from the days before I could even legally drive a car.
Reel Big Fish: Where the Kids Are
Q. What do Van Morrison, A-ha, Toots & the Maytals , Poison and The English Beat all have in common? A. Each has had Orange County-based Reel Big Fish record a cover version of their songs.
After the English Beat finished and the 40-somethings had cleared out of the ballroom, leaving a room of rowdy teenagers, Reel Big Fish took the stage. RBF is made up of a group of zany guys led by front man and mutton-chops connoisseur Aaron Barret. The guys produce a high energy wacky ska nicely fusing bass, guitar, trombone, trumpets, drums and keyboards. They easily pick up the listeners feet sending audiences into a ranking full red bull skank infused party out of control.
Last night, I was a bit intimidated to let myself get into a skanking frenzy with fourteen year-olds in the dance pit. Despite my own fondness for a good mosh pit, I just couldn’t get into the thick of any mosh pit with children.
In addition to their celebrated covers, RBF also does original songs. One song called “Beer" - which is more about a relationship gone wrong than the virtues of barley and hops - is probably the band’s most popular song amongst its fans. Other fan favorites, which might explain their animated High School following, are "Everything Sucks" and "Fuck Off." Although there is no doubt that RBF is better known for their revved up ska versions of classics such as John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Authority Song,’’ A-Ha’s “Take On Me,’’ and Duran Duran's "Hungry Like a Wolf."
The band is tight, frolicsome and very enjoyable. I am glad I saw them even though I was probably the oldest guy in the room.
Jeff’s Take On the English Beat:
I lost track of how many times the band yelled “San Francisco” as a cheap applause line or even “San Fran” -which you don’t do in San Francisco unless you want to be branded as a hapless tourist or if you are hellbent on annoying the natives. I also lost track of the number of times the band stated it was their 30th anniversary tour which made me feel more like an old fart than appreciating the longevity of the band- especially as they played their hits, that were a soundtrack to virtually every crappy college party that I attended back in the 80s. The band was certainly fun but left me unfulfilled much like most popular music in the 1980s. Yeah, I am looking at you Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Belinda Carlisle, Cyndi Lauper, Milli Vanilli, Howard Jones (it’s a long list). Painfully simple, simple uninteresting hooks, lame lyrics etc. But the The English Beat and the music of the 1980s was only about having mass-marketed fun and nothing else and that was certainly true at the Grand Ballroom. Banal fun.
Jeff’s Take on RBF:
Horrible sound mix. No midrange. It was all bass and horns. Of course, I loves me some horns, but this band was the opposite of Gomez whose live performance was so much better than their recordings. RBF recordings are much better than this live performance- despite the mosh pit and the truly unbridled enthusiasm of their fans. If you were wondering were High Schoolers hang-out during the summer, they’re at the Reel Big Fish show, skanking their brains out in the mosh pit like some crazy skanking High School musical and crowd-surfing- which I have not seen since the days of Grunge. Still, it was great to see that kids get to cut loose once in a while these days but I won’t be going back. I don’t think the kids want mom and dad hanging out at their party anyway.