The English Beat at Johnny D's

The English Beat peppered their two-hour-plus show with comments about the ’80s at Johnny D’s Tuesday night, but you wouldn’t call what they had to say about Margaret Thatcher nostalgic, exactly, though references to Boston’s late Channel nightclub were. And it was a Channel crowd — both age-wise and in alcohol consumption (a friend said that a waitress had commented, “It’s like New Year’s Eve in here”). Dave Wakeling — these days himself a teetotaler, and the only original member of the band on stage — started the set off with a good riddance comment about the last decade, and with a grin. These were bright, cheerful dance songs, but the lyrics always had a dark edge to them, as tough as the time and place they came from — “Rough Rider,” “Twist and Crawl,” “Mirror in the Bathroom.” And the lyrics that poke out from all those jagged rhythms have sharp hooks: “Mirror in the bathroom/recompense for all my crimes of self-defense.” Or, more prosaic but still apt: “It’s not a joke/it’s cards-on-the-table time” (from “I Confess”). This was classic ska but of a particular stripe — poppier than their cohort in the Specials, with a mix of pop and soul. And you could hear all the music of the time passing through their music  — a bit of Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello’s sophisticated pub rock, a bit of “Roadrunner” garage punk (“Two Swords,” about “throwing bricks at Nazis”), a splash of dub. There were covers that they made their own hits — “Tears of a Clown,” “I’ll Take You There.” With that fast ska beat, those relentless popping melodic basslines (these days handled by Wayne Lothian), not even the ballads were slow. But every song sounded as sturdy as if it were built just yesterday.

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