Mirror in the Bathroom: The English Beat Still Display a Lusty Presentation (SHOW REVIEW)

It was gratifying to see the Higher Ground Ballroom slowly but surely populate as showtime drew near on Sunday September 11th in South Burlington, Vermont. It was over seven years ago that The English Beat commanded the stage in the Ballroom for a rousing celebration and this early autumn’s appearance was no less so, perhaps because it was the final date of the current leg of their American tour. Dave Wakeling and company are well-practiced to be sure, waiting patiently just a little past showtime to allow attendees to filter in, but there’s nothing automatic or contrived about what they do.

This late summer/early fall night the English Beat sounded heartfelt as they played and engaged with their audience. In his seamless string of witty song intros, Wakeling referenced the passage of time more than a few times, but they were points well taken, if for no other reason than more than a few young kids were present. Then again, this band–in a wholly different incarnation except for its long-time leader–were one of the truly memorable aspects of popular music in the Eighties. And he ensures they remain as topically provocative as they are musically eclectic, if only to make mention of a new album in progress, from which they performed ‘a ballady thing’ (his words) “Never Die.”

The setlist that otherwise included anything a fan would want to hear from the English Bear, from early culls off the debut album I Just Can’t Stop It like “Hands Off..She’s Mine” to the latter-day Special Beat Service likes of “I Confess”, sequenced at just the right pace to maintain momentum and keep the crowd’s attention. At the very opening of “Rough Rider,” the band got its bearings on stage quickly, while on a frenetic pace through “Mirror in the Bathroom,” Wakeling and company revealed the tune’s continuing relevance today in its skewering of the self-absorbed.

Like so many other tracks filling up the approximately ninety-minutes, including lesser-known numbers such as “Rude Boy Skank,” every member of the English Beat remained in constant motion as they occupied the stage in front of an increasingly enthusiastic crowd, who were egged on by toastmaster King Schascha as well as the bandleader. With the help of dual keyboardists Kevin Lum and Minh Quan, the live sound of the ensemble replicates in remarkable detail the sound of their recordings, from the echoed sax of Matt Moorish to the twang of Wakeling’s electric guitar. Tunes so infectious as this version of “Tears of a Clown” beg to be played over and over, and in extending them in concert to amplify that pleasurable impact, the band keeps chord changes and the rhythm tightly reined.

Similarly, Dave Wakeling’s facetious comment on the aforementioned Motown song of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles was as knowing as his intro to “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” even in his erroneous but ultimately effective reading of the title. Likewise his sage but nonetheless ingratiating political commentary as well as homage to the recently-deceased ska/rocksteady proponent Prince Buster. His “Whine & Grine,” segued directly into “Stand Down Margaret,” the Beat’s sly insinuation that while the names of politics may change–Thatcher is no longer prime minister of England–their ideas sadly often don’t.

But then, that’s all the more reason to enjoy such a good time as this Sunday night in Vermont, as the audience was earnestly and successfully encouraged to do by the fast-talking, dread-locked emcee. It was impossible for the gleeful attendees not to respond kindly and the fact they represented such a wide range of demographics, age-wise and otherwise, was an object lesson in the community Dave Wakeling was eager to formulate since the English Beat started four decades ago. Hopefully, it’s not so extended an interval as last time before this band returns to the Green Mountains, but even if it is, odds are the reception will once again be as lusty as the ensemble’s presentation.

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9 Responses

  1. Likewise his sage but nonetheless ingratiating political commentary as well as homage to the recently-deceased ska/rocksteady proponent Prince Buster. His “Whine & Grine,” segued directly into “Stand Down Margaret,”

  2. It’s not the real English beat. It’s his 401k tour. the new album is just him not real English beat. Call it what it really is.

  3. Saw the real (sic) Beat in 1980 as well as these latest trips to VT: it’s all there and I’d challenge anyone to detect a discernible difference in the spirit or execution..

    1. I look back at the VT show as worth every penny going to the 401k fund or not. Dave strikes me as a person living in the real world. Cheers to him and band mates old and new for still having fun and sharing that with people. My teenaged son had a great time at the show too. We would definitely like to see them again soon.

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