The Specials Sound Academy, Toronto ON August 27
Published Aug 29, 2010Coventry, England: Not the first place many of us would look to for a definitive word on two tone ska. Still, for over three decades - give or take the odd hiatus - that's exactly where rousing outfit the Specials have been blasting out their communicably shuffling rhythms, thanks to the vocalist Terry Hall and co.
Toronto, Ontario: Not the first place one would expect a capacity crowd to actually drop their insecure posturing, judgemental glaring and self-righteous indignation in order to let an English two tone ska band show them they shouldn't be ashamed to dance, become brothers-in-arms with strangers and actually have an unadulterated good time.
But such was the case at the Sound Academy on this hot August night, as throngs of everyone from ink-fuelled rude boys and body-modification-abstaining choir girls to balding grandfathers and brace-faced teens gathered to hear the Specials hammer out tracks from their decades-long career.
Refusing to disappoint, the band clearly fed off the crowd as much as they fuelled it. Stepping out behind a white sheet, the Specials shadow-danced to canned music before confidently rolling into a host of fan favourites from "Monkey Man" to "Rat Race," "Blank Expression" and more. Tight, powerful and rosy, they forced most to forget they'd hit the stage almost an hour late and with no opening act. Moreover, the Sound Academy's unusually pristine sound on this night amplified the gig's good-natured atmosphere and defused any anxious anticipation.
Incidentally, the performers were also six of the original Specials (minus founder/keyboardist/songwriter Jerry Dammers). No small feat after this many years; maybe it's that tangible appreciation of being respected, revered and acknowledged that persuaded their undeniable enthusiasm while relaying this engaging display of jazz-and-blues-bastardized calypso.