After a nearly 30-year absence from Montreal, British Two-Tone ska legends the Specials cut no corners last night. They played all the songs you'd hope and expect they'd play, from set opener "Do the Dog" to "A Message To You, Rudy," "Little Bitch," "Ghost Town," "It Doesn't Make It Alright," "Concrete Jungle," "Rat Race" and "Too Much Too Young," among others.
It was a greatest hits kind of night, much to the elation of the denizens inside the sweaty, packed Metropolis. The crowd undulated in synchronized skanking, clapped in time when requested (and even when not) and sang along with abandon. And the band that formed in 1977 in Coventry, England did not at all show their age. The Specials — composed of several original and early members, but missing founder and principal songwriter Jerry Dammers — played with fervour, mirroring the audience's relentless energy.
Misgivings about the venue's sound quality went nearly unnoticed by the fans, though band members could be seen at times motioning to the sound tech to adjust the monitors. High tuning made it hard to be near the front speakers, but who needs to be at the front when your primary responsibility at a Specials show is to dance your heart out?
This was the kind of show the Montreal Jazz Fest was sorely lacking. After a festival of odd musical pairings (indie/blues rock band Little Hurricane opened for the Specials), stodgy and uptight fans and assigned seating on the dance floor, patrons needed a reason to let loose. This was it. If this was the last time the Specials came to Montreal before throwing in the towel for good, a couple thousand people could die happy.