Concert Review: The English Beat Just Can’t Stop the Rhythms in Portland

The English Beat thoroughly entertained a joyous sold-out crowd for nearly two hours on Saturday at the Aladdin Theater in Portland as heads bobbed up and down through 20 songs of old favorites, their popular covers and a couple of new tracks.

Dave Wakeling’s transcendent vocals for this ska/rock infused band among a handful of other incorporated genres needs no introduction for anyone who explored potential musical tastes during the 1980s. He is the sole remaining founder of the The English Beat, yes hailing overseas from Birmingham, England, which has seen numerous line-up changes over the years, a really long layoff and includes an alternative grouping that tours Europe under different personnel.

The English Beat appeared on my “see-live” radar several years ago as they regularly pass through Portland. I knew the hits and one of their songs was on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but little else. Admittedly, I was unprepared for the abundant influx of reggae and ska. Yes, I did some homework as I was not terribly familiar with their catalog but those songs played on Los Angeles’ KROQ during the 80s didn’t exactly reflect the pure style of The English Beat’s repertoire. Not that I don’t like or appreciate the form (it feels to me like authentic rap – a category that should have stayed put within those boundaries) but it seldom, if ever, appears on my personal rotation of musical choices.

As such, it was mostly an enjoyable evening and a well-received schooling in a genus of music from a band fronted by a guy who looks like the next door neighbor that enjoys local bowling leagues. Perfectly nonchalant, the left-handed Wakeling found his groove from the start opening the evening with the covers “Rough Rider” and “The Tears of a Clown” before the original “Hands Off…She’s Mine.” A radio voice if there ever was one, his baritone vocals never wavered and sounded no different than when the band emerged nearly 40 years ago. Don’t be surprised if Wakeling, 61, still fronts The English Beat in 20 years.

The evening’s setlist included “Never You Done That” and the beloved “Tenderness” by General Public the band Wakeling founded along with fellow English Beat co-founder Ranking Roger, who leads his version of The Beat in England; a solid version of “Save It For Later,” “Sole Situation,” of course, “Mirror In the Bathroom” which unfortunately didn’t rise to the catchy original (which I was looking forward to) and a “goodbye” with “Jackpot.”

Everyone on the floor stood for the duration of the show and many in the balcony as well. Indeed, it is hard not to bounce a foot, hand and/or head to the rhythm. It’s a bit addictive, truly relaxing but it sounds so similar. The variation of notes and of course the lyrics and their delivery all afford different contexts and arrangements but with some exceptions like “Tenderness” the amorous “Never Die” and “I’ll Take You There” after an hour or so much of it harmonizes together. To each his own, as they say!

However, what’s missing (for me anyway) is made up for in the live show which Wakeling does effectively. Backed by seven others, singer King Schascha who toasts thoroughly entertains often interacting with the crowd, dancing and the occasional dreadlock windmill when he swings his head around. And, Matt Morrish on saxophone nearly steals the show!

The English Beat recently wrapped a new record, Here We Go Love, and is expected to appear on Later…with Jools Holland a BBC variety show later this month.

The English Beat Setlist at Aladdin Theater in Portland

  1. Rough Rider
  2. The Tears of a Clown
  3. Hands Off…She’s Mine
  4. Twist & Crawl
  5. Rude Boy Skank
  6. Tenderness
  7. Save it for Later
  8. Never Die
  9. Too Nice To Talk To
  10. Best Friend
  11. Whine & Grine/Stand Down Margaret
  12. I’ll Take You There
  13. Sole Salvation
  14. Can’t Get Used to Losing You
  15. Never You Done That
  16. “How Can You Stand Man” (new)
  17. The Doors of Your Heart
  18. Ranking Full Stop
  19. Mirror In the Bathroom
  20. Jackpot