Toasting the town
Eighties ska-pop fave The English Beat electrifies Lost on Main
Lost On Main319 Main St.
Chico, CA 95928
The nightclub action on the 300 block of Main Street in Chico was especially robust last Friday night, with a swarming crowd buzzing down to The Down Lo for a manager’s 40th birthday party followed by the main event upstairs, a sold-out concert by The English Beat at Lost on Main. Helping to set the mood out on the sidewalk, an impromptu group of well-dressed revelers regaled those in line and passersby with a well-intended though off-key a capella version of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
The occasion of a local English Beat show brought a capacity crowd of wide-ranging ages that, after being sufficiently warmed up by an early-’80s DJ dance party, moved in sweaty unison—a treat in mid-January—to frontman Dave Wakeling and his minions.
As it has been for 31 years now, The English Beat is led by vocalist and guitarist Wakeling, and still—or I should say, again—delivers a bouncy, irresistible mélange of ska and Britpop with a jazzy flair.
One of the most refreshing acts of the early-’80s post-punk pop era, Britain’s The English Beat along with Madness and The Specials were part of the Two Tone era of racially integrated bands that paid musical homage to artists such as Desmond Dekker, leader of the first wave of Jamaican ska/reggae. Now a 20-year California resident, frontman Wakeling does most of his work in the United States, and is the sole original member in this U.S. version of the band. The English Beat’s other celebrated founder, Ranking Roger, leads a U.K. version of the group, simply called The Beat, which mostly performs in England
On Friday, the first battery of songs of the two-hour set included two from the band’s 1979 debut album, the quick and pulsing “Hands Off She’s Mine” and “Tears of a Clown,” a wonderfully done Smokey Robinson remake. The band also skillfully performed the gospelly “I’ll Take You There,” a Staple Singers’ classic that Wakeling first offered in 1995 with his other big group, General Public. Soon after, and illustrating Wakeling’s knack for delivering a ballad, the septet—sax, drums, keyboards, bass, guitar, toaster (a style of lyrical chanting often associated with Jamaican music) and vocals—also served up a sweet, reverential version of “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” made famous almost 50 years ago by pure white-bread American crooner Andy Williams.
Now 53, Wakeling, who is right-handed and plays his trademark teardrop-shaped guitar left-handed and upside-down, still possessed a youthful appearance onstage with his boyish haircut and well-preserved features.
The whole band was tight and well-rehearsed throughout. Judging by the audience’s level of merrymaking, those players who replaced original members—particularly sax man Nat Love, who is earnestly filling the shoes of the patriarchal Saxa, and toaster Antonee First Class, taking the spot that Ranking Roger once commanded—held their own nicely.
The balance of the set included a couple of new songs as well as praiseworthy versions of Wakeling classics that made the club thump, General Public’s “Tenderness” and the English Beat’s “Save It for Later,” “Doors of Your Heart,” “Ackee 1 2 3” and set closer, “Mirror in the Bathroom.”
Lost on Main, with its stylish, high-ceilinged black interior adorned with its typical array of art and flashing neon, felt like the perfect venue for the show—large enough to fit a few hundred, but intimate enough to create an urgent, shoulder-to-shoulder nightclub happening that hearkened to the band’s early days conquering Manchester, England.