The Specials
Terminal 5, New York, April 20
by Stephen Slaybaugh

As David Holmes noted last week in his review of the Antlers’ show in Columbus, complaints about a venue usually don’t make for the best read. But just as it’s worth noting the inadequacy of the club where that gig took place (the Basement), so too is it worth mentioning the similar problems of New York’s Terminal 5. Like the Basement but on a much grander scale, Terminal 5 suffers from inherently poor design. With two balconies where it’s only possible to view the band if one is at the railing and a large flat floor area, when the club is at capacity (as it has been both times I’ve been there), nearly half the crowd has to contend with only being able to see what’s going on onstage via the televisions hung around those top tiers.

As such, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to another concert experience at the west side venue. And as exciting as the idea of the Specials reuniting is, that Jerry Dammers—the founder and principal architect of both the band and its 2-Tone label—isn’t involved didn’t seem right. Disappoint was inevitable, right?

Wrong. The Specials, which aside from Dammers, included all the original members, managed to overcome Terminal 5’s abysmal setting. With a three-piece horn section in tow, they cumulatively ran through all of 1979’s self-titled debut, save for “Too Hot,” and the bulk of 1980’s More Specials. They began with “Do the Dog,” its opening line of “All you punks and all you Teds, National Front and natty dreads, mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads, keep on fighting ’til you’re dead,” nearly summing up the diverse crowd.

Still, despite the band and the crowd’s unbridled enthusiasm, it took a few turns for the ska legends to get up to speed. But by the set’s fifth song, “Monkey Man,” they had worked up a good sweat. Neville Staples gleamed buoyantly, sprinting around the stage between toasts. But it was the licks traded between Lynval Golding and Roddy Radiation on songs like “Concrete Jungle” and “Little Bitch” that really reverberated. Their contributions aren’t the first things that spring to mind when recalling the Specials’ seminal rhythm-heavy, horn-punctuated works, but here their dual purposes of carrying both the rhythm and the melody were more apparent.

Two-thirds of the way through, the trio of More Specials cuts—“Friday Night, Saturday Morning,” “Stereotypes” and “Man at C&A”—was a break from the full-on pace, but stood up to the rest of material, even if that album isn’t remembered with the same reverence as its predecessor. “A Message to You Rudy” followed, its well-known mid-tempo nonetheless climatic. But more was still to come, with a fevered pitch reached with “Too Much Too Young” before the denouement of “You’re Wondering Now.” The Specials returned for an encore of “Ghost Town” and “Enjoy Yourself,” with the crowd joining in for the latter’s refrain. It was safe to say that all—band (even sullen singer Terry Hall) and audience alike— had indeed enjoyed themselves despite all factors to the otherwise.