As noted late in the evening by a skanker stage front‚ it'd been nearly three decades since the English Beat did the "Twist and Crawl" on a Vermont stage (at UVM in October '80 to be exact). Yet the retooled group's appearance at Higher Ground on May 26th was testament to their commitment‚ not to mention the continuing relevance of their music.
And it's not just this amalgam of reggae‚ pop and R&B‚ called ska‚ or even the incisive topicality of songs like "Stand Down Margaret‚" a tune originally targeted for a British prime minister that could as a prod at any American head of state. The slightly-tongue-in-cheek wit of the Smokey Robinson cover "Tears of A Clown" is marked contrast to the ominous air hidden within "Click Click‚" a prescient tune of leader Dave Wakeling's if there ever was one: terrorism wasn't so oft-mentioned when he wrote that tune thirty years ago!
The sharp collective rhythm of the band drives their point(s) home‚ grounded‚ not surprisingly‚ in the bracing guitar of left-handed Wakeling (the single remaining member of the original lineup). The leader's light touch plus the lean mix of styles within "Ranking Full Stop" and "Save it for Later" enhanced the virtues of each genre‚ particularly the sleek rock of the latter: The Beat reciprocate with Pearl Jam by teasing "Better Man‚" the Seattle band's original where they interpolate The Beat.
The opener‚ "Rough Rider‚" was a microcosm of the group's style‚ from which point they spent the rest of the night elaborating on each component. By the third number‚ "Whine and Grine‚" they were digging into a dub groove where a pledge to Jah seemed as natural and unself- conscious as the self-deprecating humor and instinctual harmony singing. Saxophonist Nat Love's pungent playing brightened the snappy arrangements as much as those virtues‚ while resident toaster Antonee First Class ingratiatingly invited rather than coerced a crowd to participate-all of which made for music just provocative enough to skirt pure frivolity.
"Tenderness" and "I'll Take You There‚" the tunes of Wakeling's post-Beat band General Public‚ slowed the band's brisk momentum‚ but the septet ended with an appropriately understated theatrical flourish (adding a British music hall to the mix)‚ the single set satisfying out of proportion to its hour and three-quarter length.