Monday, June 01, 2009

The Specials

This is a tough one. Before you even get to the gig, does it count as a real gig? Is it still the Specials if 1/7 of the lineup is missing? Will The Specials without Jerry Dammers be anything like as good as the band was with him?

Then, of course, there is the whole reunion thing anyway. One of the best gigs that this site has ever been to was the reformed Dinosaur Jr. But they didn't generate the same amount of hype that the Specials have managed. Rage Against The Machine, on the other hand, did and were somewhat underwhelming as a result. I guess we just have to go to the gig and find out.

Which is something of an achievement in itself. The Brixton Academy might have a crowd limit, but a limit is one thing when the audience is predominantly skinny goth kids and quite another when the place is stuffed full of fat balding men who wouldn't look out of place at a Black Francis convention. Personal space is, frankly, not an option.

Inside, more posters, more evidence of a clash of egos. Some bill the band as 'The Specials', some as 'The Specials feat. Terry Hall' and others as 'The Specials feat. Terry Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding'. It is hard to tell if this is the product of one almighty row or one almighty cock-up.

Fortunately, all of this wondering can be put to one side when, on the stroke of 9.30, six fifty-something men burst onto the stage and launch into 'Do The Dog' like it was still 1979.

There are three things which are astounding about this show. The first is the energy level. How these guys keep up such a frenetic tempo for 90 minutes is beyond me. The only one who flags, who skives off for a song or two, is Hall - and he's four years younger than any of the others. However rapturously the audience reacts, it just seems to inspire the bands to newer heights.

Second on the list is how good the songs are. Whatever you might think of this band and their politics, they wrote some damn good tunes and time as not withered a single one of them. 'Ghost Town' and 'Too Much Too Young' might be their signatures, but 'Nite Klub', 'Blank Expression' and the sublime 'It Doesn't Make It Alright' are, in their own way, lost classics brought back to life tonight.

And then there is the musicianship. Admittedly, you can't make a comeback and then sound like an unmitigated shambles, but this is a band who are remarkably tight, to the point where I notice only one slight error all evening. Whilst all of the attention is upon the three frontmen, Sir Horace, John and Roddy quietly get on with business behind them - one of the crimes of modern musical history is that no-one seems to truly appreciate what a superb guitarist Roddy Radiation actually is - accompanied by a horn section who barely seem old enough to remember who the band are, and the inevitable keyboardist.

As the evening draws to a close, with 'Skinhead Moonstomp' segue-ing into 'Enjoy Yourself', the Academy becomes one huge amorphous moshpit. Which leaves one final question: Jerry who?


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