Stepping inside the cool interior of Philly’s Trocadero last Saturday night was a welcome relief from the hot, pungent air encompassing Chinatown. It also felt oddly like hopping on board a time machine for the strangest musical trip since Public Enemy toured with U2.
The pairing of Soul Asylum, the 90’s alternative act best known for their milk carton standard, “Runaway Train,” and ska legends, The English Beat, was bizarre, to say the least. The bands shared little in common, including the audience. A third of the crowd, clad mostly in black concert shirts, left the venue after Soul Asylum finished their set making way for a slightly older crowd which included more than a few garments festooned with the Jamaican flag.
Soul Asylum’s set opened with “Somebody to Shove”, one of the best tracks from their triple-platinum album, “Grave Dancer’s Union”. The only remaining member from those chart-topping days is lead singer Dave Pirner, but the band sounded tight as they played older songs and tracks from the new album, “Change of Fortune”.
After ending their set with fan favorite, “April Fool”, Pirner prepped the audience for the change in musical direction by telling them to, “Get ready to dance! The English Beat are up next.”
When Dave Wakeling and Andy Cox formed The Beat (they are known as the English Beat only in the US) with Ranking Roger, David Steele, Everette Morton and Saxa in late 70’s Birmingham, England, ska was emerging as an alternative to punk. It was a time when Britain was in the economic and political upheaval that would continue through the 80’s. The young punk bands rioted against the status quo, but they were almost exclusively white and their music was aggressive. Ska offered a multiracial viewpoint and blended together those punk sounds with funky beats from Jamaica.
The Beat toured constantly in the very early 80’s while pumping out three successful records in the UK. Despite touring with high profile acts like The Police and David Bowie, and having a passionate fan base, they never really broke big in the US. By 1983, the band had broken up and formed two different bands. The success that alluded them as The English Beat found them at last as General Public (“Tenderness”) and Fine Young Cannibals (“She Drives Me Crazy”).
Years later, the band continues as separate, but mostly equal, groups. Ranking Roger heads up a UK version called “The Beat”, while Dave Wakeling leads the US version known as, “The English Beat”. It was the latter that headlined the Troc show.
Dave Wakeling may have been the only remaining member of the original band, but he has assembled an amazing group of musicians to tour with him. King Schascha served in the roll formerly held by Ranking Roger and he not only excelled at toasting, the fast rapping as important to ska as its trademark beat, but he served as an upbeat and lively host for the show. Matt Morrish, on saxophone, was similarly vibrant as he hopped around stage and engaged with the audience.
The entire band was energetic as they poured through each classic song and the crowd grew more animated as the set progressed. By the time the band got to the 1982 hit, “I Confess”, the floor was vibrating from the audience jumping and dancing along.
The band performed songs from the all three Beat albums, along with “Tenderness” and “I’ll Be There” from the General Public years. They might have been playing to a relatively small audience, but they put on a show worthy of Wembley.