An ideal companion piece to The Complete Beat, the comprehensive chronicle of the Two-Tone band’s recording output, this combination CD/DVD set captures the bulk of the Beat’s two performances at the groundbreaking US Festival. And though the second of the two appearances occurred near the end of the band’s initial run, they acquit themselves equally stylishly on a span of material from their three studio albums.
In keeping with their punk roots, The English Beat’s forte was the nervy likes of "Twist & Crawl," which opens the hour-long CD. The wry "Sugar & Stress" is one of a small handful of selections from the at-the-time unreleased third studio album, Special Beat Service and, like "I Confess,” is much more conventional pop which nevertheless amplifies the impression of the septet as an ultra-tight performing unit.
These live recordings extend the impact of similar concert takes from the aforementioned six CD box set: the sound here is much superior. On arrangements like that of "Hands Off…She’s Mine," the clarity is a great benefit in discerning the effort of indefatigable drummer Everett Morton, not to mention the mix of guitars and keyboards that color the melody as well as the rhythm. The absence of credits within the CD liner, however, doesn’t do justice to the legacy of The English Beat: sax player Wesley Magoogan deserves recognition for the textures he adds to the sound, long before accompanied by the venerable Saxa on the last few numbers of the 1983 set.
The practiced vocal tradeoffs between guitarist Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger enhance the infectious nature of the songs themselves, even though the setlists overlap to great extent. The concert takes proceed in rapid-fire succession with little or no improvisation, even greater a sensation on the DVD, over a hundred minutes of which footage conveys as much enthusiasm on the part of the band as its audience. Through panning and zooming, right, left and behind, not to mention above and at the feet of The Beat, the visuals are the counterpart of the septet’s stage presence: all seven are in virtually constant motion during each and every tune.
The forward-thinking concept of the US Festival predates the likes of today’s similarly executed events and it’s worth noting the progression from one year to the next as the stylized stage background expands and includes video screen. In combination with the sunlight-drenched landscape of mountains and water as a natural enhancement of the video experience, The English Beat Live at the US Festival looks and sounds not the least dated but, rather, quite the opposite.