Friday Night: The English Beat & the Romantics at Fitzgerald's
I've often wondered if people who experienced the '80s in adulthood had as much fun as the music still makes it sound today. Probably not, but try coming of age on the cusp of the '90s and all these rain-clouded Seattle bands pissing all over everyone's parade or borderline-comatose college-rockers like Pavement or Sebadoh mumbling all the time. Oof.
So if there's a ribbon of truth to the musical urban legend that the last time someone in a band smiled onstage was sometime in 1991, Dave Wakeling's grin threatened to blind the Fitzgerald's audience. Not to be all Pollyanna, but Wakeling and the rest of the English Beat's set upstairs Friday night was a solid hour-plus ray of sunshine without all the unpleasant heat-related connotations such an allusion might mean during a Houston summer.
From the minute the Beat began with the self-assured rocksteady groove of "Rough Rider" the crowd started rocking back and forth like a wheat field and didn't stop. Ably assisted by hypeman/rapper MC Under Control - who managed to work the words "Houston, Texas" into every single song and sometimes every other line -- Wakeling is a people-pleaser of the highest order, grabbing people (including a couple and a little boy) to come dance onstage and punctuating the songs with swigs of beer and merry banter. He seemed to be having as much fun as the audience, although that was a tough call.
The other four guys onstage, including the caged drummer, made it easy with a fast-moving, radiant stream of ska, deeper reggae, a good bit of Motown ("Tears of a Clown") and covers like the Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There," sprinkled with soul and smooth jazz and allowing the occasional garage-rock organ blowout.
The Beat certainly played every song I was hoping to hear - "Mirror In the Bathroom," "Twist and Crawl," "Can't Get Used to Losing You," "I Confess" even the one between "Sole Salvation" and "Tenderness" I have heard for years without quite figuring out the name.