By Doug Levy
Rude boys back in town
It was during that time that a UK band known as The Specials started a ball rolling that has spiraled out of control in the years since. Merging the sounds of traditional '50s ska music with the punk attitude of the times, they almost single-handedly created the sound we know as ska today. Bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt and Rancid are vocal about the influence that The Specials had on them, and even the Prodigy's Liam is quick to praise their virtues.
The Specials built up a loyal following in England during the early '80s and an underground fanbase overseas. Unfortunately, after two classic albums,
The Specials and More Specials, they split. Citing "musical differences," vocalists Terry Hall and Neville Staple, along with guitarist Lynval Golding left to form '80s band Fun Boy 3.
Today, Terry has a solo career to occupy his time, but the other original members of the band, also including bassist "Sir" Horace Panter and guitarist Roddy "Radiation" Byers, knew that the time was right for another go. While most band reunions have atrocious results (like, oh, say, The Sex Pistols), the music and energy of The Specials is just as intense now as it was 20 years ago. Even without Terry to share vocal duties, the band's stage presence and sound are still inspiring, full of the passion and ability that were there from the start.
Of course, playing the Fourth Avenue Street Fair on their visit to Tucson this past weekend might not have been the best decision. The "venue" (a makeshift stage barricaded off around the corner from O'Malley's) was far from ideal. The ticket prices also left something to be desired, and the choice to hold the show over spring break helped hurt ticket sales. And whoever decided to let local punk heroes The Weird Lovemakers open up wasn't quite thinking straight - their hard-core sound isn't quite what the horn-hungry crowd was looking for.
However, to The Specials' credit, they didn't let any of that discourage them. For fans who didn't know what to expect from the show, which included some of the group's first new songs in over 15 years, the set opener was a welcome surprise. Taking the stage in classic rude boy style, Neville launched the band into "Guns of Navarrone," signaling to the crowd that all the songs they knew and loved from the past were on the agenda for the night.
Dressed in full Clash gear, complete with turned-up collar, Byers helped to lead the show, taking on vocal duties for "Rat Race," and "Nite Club," while newer members Mark Adams (keyboards) and Harrington Bainbridge (drums) kept things swinging in the back.
It was the songs that made The Specials so great back in the day that kept them great on stage Saturday night: "Gangsters," "Do Nothing," "Rudi, A Message To You" and others kept the crowd in constant motion, along with hints of what to expect from the new album, Guilty 'Til Proven Innocent, which is out today on Way Cool/MCA.
Highlights included a stirring rendition of "Doesn't Make It All Right," which had everyone shouting along at the top of their lungs, as well as the extended encore performance of "Ghost Town," which is not only one of the band's best songs, but is also lyrically appropriate for Tucson, with its chorus of, "This town is 'coming like a ghost town."
Horn player Adam Birch drew one of the biggest reactions with his lively, fun-filled takes on the songs, especially when he stepped up to the front of the stage to really let loose, but the true stars were the original members of the band, Golding, Staple, Byers and Panter, who brought us such great music both yesterday and today.
As one fan was overheard saying, "I'm reliving my past tonight, man!"
And loving it, too.