A posh venue in Lower Manhattan— a winery, nonetheless — is an odd setting for a band with punk roots whose ethos was imbued with a distrust of the establishment. But such was the case in late March on the first night of The English Beat’s two-night run at City Winery, driving home the idea that with the passage of time, everything eventually becomes classic rock, and the revolution eventually comes with a glass of chardonnay.
Founder Dave Wakeling and his current touring outfit did offer a bit of nostalgia, but the energy level was high, with toaster King Schascha riling up the denizens and working the crowd all night, including dancing his way through the audience all the way to the merch stand at the back of the hall to end the show.
Wakeling (lead vocals and guitar) and crew — Matt Morrish (sax), keyboard players Kevin Lum, Michael “Railo” Railton and Minh Quan, bass player Mark “London” Sims, Mark Spiller on drums and the aforementioned and animated Schascha — kicked things off with “Rough Rider,” which featured some neat wah-wah effect on the organ. “Twist and Crawl” was a fun, minor-chord reggae number, with the melody carried by keyboards and sax, and the slinky “Too Nice To Talk To” changed things up with a disco-like bass line.
After the bright “Hands Off She’s Mine,” King Schascha got into a playful “fight” with a fan up front and joked, “We’re going to take a 5-minute break and put all the tables and chairs out in the street.” “Tenderness,” from Wakeling’s post-Beat band General Public, could be a radio hit now. The soulful tune was one of the show’s high points, with some deft surf guitar work by Wakeling, a drum breakdown and clap-along and a tuneful sax solo, during which Schascha took video on his cellphone.
“Stand Down Margaret,” the band’s classic anti-Thatcher screed, was another fun one, before Wakeling switched from his teardrop guitar to a Telecaster for the massive hit “Save It For Later.” His voice sounded rich and vibrant, and Schascha got many in the crowd to pogo up and down — not an easy task in a winery, it would seem.
The English Beat’s tender side was on display again with its version of “Can’t Get Used To Losing You,” a tune initially made popular by crooner Andy Williams in the early ’60s. “All our pop stars are dropping like flies,” prefaced Wakeling. “Andy Williams? Are you kidding me? I just can’t get used to losing you.”
A song from the band’s upcoming album — Wakeling mentioned the group’s pledge campaign, jokingly calling it a pyramid scheme — and their ska classic “Ranking Full Stop” were up next, with the latter getting the remaining seated patrons out of their chairs. “Jackpot” was pure reggae, and a fine capper on the performance. One by one, the band members walked backstage, besides Schascha, who ran into the crowd, dancing his way to his mom, who he mentioned several times during the concert, and then to the merch stand, where he changed out of his sweaty shirt and got ready to meet fans.
Photo by Bryan Kremkau