The Specials review – joyous toast to 70s ska

The Specials at the Vic Theatre in Chicago, IL March 11, 2013

In the politically tense late 70s, the Specials practically wrote racial integration into their 2 Tone manifesto and made a slew of clever, witty, socially-charged hits that energised a generation and changed lives.

But, with Jerry Dammers still eschewing this reunion – ongoing since the Specials got back together for their 30th anniversary in 2008 – and with toaster Neville Staple now departed on health grounds, could support for the band be waning?

Not tonight, at least. At the first of a Barrowlands double-header, old classics are given a new sheen, there’s a rousing party section in the middle, and a typically joyous toast to ska heritage at the end. Ghost Town opens in its full spooky-rousing glory, setting the bar high, where it more or less stays.

Singer Terry Hall, guitarist Lynval Golding, bassist Horace Panter and drummer John Bradbury maintain a strong spine of vintage-era members. Guesting on guitar is Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Craddock – his authoritative playing a reminder, like his sideman duties for Paul Weller, that he is wasted in the universe’s most turgid indie band. Supplementary to the standard horns section, a trio of female strings players lend a smart burnish to the likes of Stereotype and Man at C&A, while somehow managing to make gently skanking with a violin look not entirely unnatural.

Then Golding inquires, “Are you ready to start skanking?”, and everyone gets down to business, as an up-tempo volley from Rat Race to Why? and Too Much Too Young lands. The finale is largely dedicated, in that unselfconsciously reverential way of ska shows, to the standards – Dandy Livingstone’s A Message to You, Rudy, Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think) a la Prince Buster, the Skatalites’ Guns of Navarone and You’re Wondering Now. As band and audience alike roar the latter’s fatalistic refrain a capella skywards with the lights up, there’s a powerful sensation that the crowd are still strongly connected with something much bigger than any of them.

• At O2 Academy, Newcastle, 9 November (0844-477 2000); O2 Academy, Leeds, 10 November (0844-477 2000); Apollo, Manchester, 11 November (0844-477 2000); Roundhouse, London, 13-15 November (0300-6789 222); then touring until 22 November. Details: thespecials.com

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Malcolm Jack, for The Guardian on Friday 7th November 2014 13.52 Europe/London

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