Concert review: The English Beat, Skully’s Music Diner, Columbus OH

When a lone member of a band continues to tour under the name that made him famous, it’s usually a sad sight. Infighting has led to acrimony, lawsuits and injunctions are filed, and worst of all, the last person standing, most likely the lead singer, is too proud to admit that maybe their songs and their singing or playing ability have just not held up well, and it’s time to pack it in.

Then there’s Dave Wakeling.

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Wakeling is the leader of ska pop giants the English Beat, and rather than get into legal dust-ups with his former band mates, he and fellow singer Ranking Roger have worked out a deal where Wakeling tours as the Beat in the United States, while Roger, along with original Beat drummer Everett Morton, tours as the Beat in the band’s native England. Everybody makes money, everybody’s happy. How refreshing. Even better, Wakeling is not content to waltz into the sunset – the band he hired to round out the US version of the English beat are smoking hot, and the two-hour show they unleashed on the ecstatic audience at Skully’s Music Diner was a textbook lesson on how to do a so-called nostalgia show.

We use that word ‘nostalgia’ reluctantly, but it must be said. Wakeling loathes the recording studio – his direct quote to us, when we interviewed Wakeling in 2009, was “I think the process of recording 12 songs in a row, at the same time, I used to find it interminably boring. I hated it. You know, you just listen to your own songs for three months, good God” – and hasn’t released anything new under any name since 1995. Not surprisingly, the evening’s set list contained the lion’s share of the Beat’s debut album, I Just Can’t Stop It, with a few songs from Special Beat Service and Wakeling’s spinoff band General Public mixed in (“Never You Done That” was a most welcome surprise), and by sticking with their best-known songs, Wakeling and crew had a mostly 40+ crowd dancing nonstop for two straight hours, which is no small feat. Wakeling’s between-song banter is lightning quick and often hilarious, and his band, anchored by terrific drummer Rhythmm Epkins, were super-tight, with several songs stretched well past their album running times.

There are only eight dates left on the English Beat’s current US tour. If they’re playing in your town, or even within 50 miles of your town, go. The live show is sensational and the tickets are cheap, plus they still have the coolest t-shirts of any band alive.

  

Lollapalooza Pre-Day One: Chicago, The City That Doesn’t Give Receipts…and kills its favorite sons

I lived here for ten years, so it should not surprise me in the slightest that things will not go according to plan when I pop into Midway. Even a transaction as simple as a receipt for some Combos would be easy…right? Wrong. The credit card-paying woman in front of me got a receipt with no trouble, while I watched the same woman that helped her hit an infinite series of buttons over and over, only to get the “beep beep” sound again and again…and again. I eventually let it go, thinking it was just a buck and change. I collected my suitcase from baggage claim and headed for the Orange Line.

There are multiple options for riders when you are looking for train passes at the CTA. I was looking for a five-day pass, but all I saw were three-day passes, seven-day passes, and the ‘give us all your money and it will never be enough’ passes. I reluctantly bought a seven-day pass, since I knew I had a hell of a lot of train traffic in my future, and to my benefit, I at least got a pass, which the person in front of me did not, because his transaction “timed out.” I asked the machine to print a receipt, and it said ‘Okay’…then did nothing. Damn, man. I paid for two extra days of travel, and you can’t print me a receipt?

Welcome to Chicago, kids. “The city that works.” So I took my seven-day pass and went to get on the Midway stop on the Orange line. Out of curiosity, I asked the woman at the handicapped entrance, “Did they get rid of the five-day pass?” “They sell those at currency exchanges and Jewel/Osco’s,” she told me, about 30 seconds too late. How convenient, I think. That would have required me to buy a pass to get on the train, get off the train, find a currency exchange or Jewel/Osco, buy a five-day pass, then reboard. Again, welcome to Chicago, the city that works…but doesn’t print receipts.

So I jump on the Orange Line train for my hotel, and the second the doors close and the train heads on its way towards downtown…there is an inescapable whistling sound on the train. It has nothing to do with the train’s velocity – it’s just…there. So even as I try to forget everything that has happened up to this point, the damn subway train is taunting me. “You didn’t get a receipt, sucker! Ha ha hahahahahahahaha!” To make matters worse, my wife texts me later in the day and says, “Sit down,” then tells me that John Hughes is dead. This, after I saw some guy tear around the Sears Tower (technically the Willis Tower, but sorry, it’s way too soon for that) in a convertible, which instantly made me think of the garage attendants from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” taking a joy ride with a similar car. Creepy.

Friday’s forecast: Chance of thunderstorms, high ’80s. Sorry, but the day after John Hughes dies, it should rain in Chicago. The entire world lost a brother, a son, a father, an uncle, and their best friend. I know that I’m supposed to be excited about covering a music fesitval, and I am…but damn, man, I just lost John Hughes. In fact, I just talked with English Beat singer Dave Wakeling, and happened to ask him about John Hughes, Man, this makes me sad.

BE: When John Hughes contacted you in 1987 and asked you to write the title track for his latest movie, did you think that you had just been touched by the hand of God?

DW: Well, that god had touched my hand a few months before. He came backstage in Anaheim after we played a concert. And as he shook my hand, he said, “Anybody who’s got the balls to put a bassoon in a pop record, and get it in the charts, is my man.” He was referring to the bassoon part in “Tenderness” [mimics bassoon line]. We became good friends and I went to his house a few times, and he’s got a wall of records, 50 feet long, 12 feet high. You could point to anywhere on it, and he knew exactly which record it was. Far more serious about music than I ever was, that’s for sure. It was before I had become computerized – and probably before a lot of people had – so we’d talk about this idea of “She’s Having a Baby.” We both had young children and we discussed the ways it makes things better and some ways it makes things worse, and the changes it brings to couples once they start having kids. And then we started writing each other, so I wrote the first draft of “She’s Having a Baby,” and I would send it to him, and he wrote back with suggestions, or angles, where he thought the movie was going. We wrote back and forth three or four times, which I thought was one of the most exciting co-writes I’ve ever done, really. Brilliant man. I don’t even know what he does now. Did he just retire, or what?

BE: He pops out a script about once every seven years. It’s weird. He pulled a Terrence Malick; he just disappeared.

DW: I wonder what he does. I’d like to see him. Is he a happy chap, or is he a reclusive type?

BE: I honestly have no idea. I know that I miss him.

Damn. If I only knew.

  

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