The English Beat
The Bell House, Brooklyn, July 12
by Stephen Slaybaugh

With the original English Beat (or simply The Beat as they’re known in the UK) having disbanded nearly 30 years ago and singer Dave Wakeling the only member of that original group touring the US under the moniker, one could be forgiven for being a little skeptical about what would take place onstage at the Bell House this past Thursday. Nostalgia can manifest itself in ugly ways, so in many respects, Wakeling and his crew probably had something to prove to those in attendance, many of whom no doubt had witnessed the band when Wakeling was performing alongside Ranking Roger, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, and Saxa.

As Dave would make mention of midway through the evening, the band was celebrating the recent release of its retrospective on Shout! Factory, the five-disc Complete Beat. As even a cursory listen to that boxset makes it apparent that the band’s catalog has aged incredibly well, the Beat has a legacy to live up to. In short, a half-assed waltz down memory wouldn’t be satisfactory tonight (or probably any other night for that matter). But after warming with a run through “Hands Off... She’s Mine,” Wakeling and his troupe quickly proved up to the task at hand, covering the vast majority of the three albums the original band made in its five years together. In addition to “Hands Off,” they played most of I Just Can’t Stop It. “Twist & Crawl” and “Best Friend” came early on in the set, their up-tempos riling the crowd and the band equally. “Tears of a Clown” and “Whine & Grine/Stand Down Margaret” came somewhere in the middle, their catchy refrains just as infectious as the other tracks’ riddims.

Throughout the night, Wakeling, now almost 60, showed that his voice and guitar playing remain in top form. He didn’t hit all the high notes in “I Confess,” but that’s a task few singers are up to. He was no doubt in high spirits, and aside from some toasting from Roger’s replacement, Antonee First Class, the spotlight never left him. “Save It for Later” was right in the middle of the performance instead of being saved for an encore. The song, despite its three-chord pattern, revealed why Wakeling is one of the under-appreciated songwriters of his generation. His gift for melody and phrasing is truly unique and unmatched. To wit, “Sole Salvation,” from the Beat’s swan song, Special Beat Service, is a mid-tempo mix of sultry vocals, shuffling beats, a thumping bassline, swinging sax, and guitar jangle that comes together as mellifluous pop moment. Other softer highlights of the night included “End of the Party,” from the same record, and “Tenderness,” his big hit from post-Beat outfit General Public.

As the show finally climaxed with “Mirror in the Bathroom” nearly two hours later, whatever doubts anyone might have had were laid to rest (or more accurately, left on the dancefloor). Indeed, no encore was necessary, just as it was obvious that this wasn’t just some ’80s oldies revue, but a band full of vigor touting out a catalog that shouldn’t be put to rest just yet.