Posted by: martinworster | March 27, 2013

148. THE SPECIALS

As I stood in the Nokia Theatre in the LA Live complex close to Down Town LA I was struck by a number of thoughts. Firstly, it was weird that I would be seeing a gig in the Nokia Theatre. Why does everything have to be so branded and corporate now? Why has the music and sports space been so blatantly raped by big companies looking for ‘market share’ and ‘brand awareness’? How long before we take a piss in the venue in a toilet sponsored by Kleenex? It seems like every little move we make now has to have some marketing potential. My second thought was, how fascinating that a band that formed in 1970s Coventry – The Specials – had such an intense resonance with people today. 

 

I was adrift in a deep sea of middle aged men in pork pie hats, zoot suits, winkle pickers, tops with checker board designs, shortened drainpipe trousers, badges and everything black and white in homage to the 2 Tone record label. The Specials have such a well carved out niche identity, both musically and sartorially, that is still very powerful and popular thirty years after it’s original creation. This is particularly relevant in Los Angeles, as Southern California has had a long and well documented fascination with ska allowing bands like No Doubt to form and prosper.

 

I was too young to really have caught The Specials when they first emerged, although their sound and style definitely triggers various childhood memories, although this might be confused with the ubiquitousness of some of their songs. If you see any documentary footage of 80s urban decay or riots this will automatically be soundtracked with ‘Ghost Town’. In fact ‘Ghost Town’ has long heralded by pop critics as being the song to most perfectly emerge from and invoke time and place. Early 1980s England was a time of mass unemployment, poverty, riots and general social disorder so that most of Britains’ inner cities did resemble bleak ghost towns. Second wave ska was the sound of the era, in tandem with other scene bands like The Selector, Bad Manners, The Beat and Madness who went on to have most popular success. I remember singing ‘Our House’ and ‘Baggy Trousers’ in the school playground.

 

There’s always the worry when seeing bands who have reformed after a long hiatus that they will fall short. As the years add on – The Specials are probably in their mid to late fifties – they might just not cut it. This was an ill founded worry. They sounded tight and moved around the stage with energy, particularly Lynval Golding who bounced around like a teenager. Terry Hall’s banter in between songs was hilarious. ‘Has anyone seen Argo? That Ben Affleck’s a cunt. Don’t get me started on Matt Damon.’ Hall’s had a documented battle with depression and his cynical rants delivered in a black country accent were a well received, cutting through the sometimes irritating perma-positivity of Southern California. 

 

It was the type of gig where it’s almost more interesting studying the crowd. Plenty of punks who never grew up. Dad mods with flat caps and parka jackets. Lots of tattoos, often on the face. All of whom could easily be extras from ‘This Is England’. I even saw a father with a matching 2 Tone styled son – Specials jacket, drainpipe trousers, badges and an overall black and white colour scheme – who looked barely out of his teens. Nothing like forcing your musical tastes onto your offspring. The crowd sung every song word for word, bouncing pogo style to the fast ska baselines. The intense disaffection – racism, youthful alienation, Thatcherism – with 1970s England and all the creativity that it sprouted still echoing strongly 30 years down the road in Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre.

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