Just like Pagliacci did, Judge P.S. Colbert tries to keep his sadness hid.
Staying indifferent proves nearly impossible once this British ska-punk band tears into "Twist & Crawl," the addictive twitchy toe-tapper that opens The English Beat: Live at the US Festival.
Conceived by presenter Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple Computers) as "a celebration of evolving technologies," the US Festival brought computers, music, and people together over a period of two weekends on a specially constructed open-air field in San Bernadino, California.
The Beat (called The English Beat in America, for legal reasons) were one of the UK's leading "2-Tone" bands—so-called due to their multi-cultural musical influences and their racially diverse memberships—scoring five Top Ten singles from December 1979 to December 1980. Though they never quite managed to break big in the States, The Beat nevertheless were one of only two bands to play both weekends (along with American New Wave cult favorites, Oingo Boingo). Ironically, though these appearances helped boost The Beat's profile in the colonies by putting them in front of the biggest crowds they'd ever played for, the group decided to call it quits shortly after their obligations to Wozniak had been fulfilled.
This long-awaited video documentary of these festival performances (3 September 1982 and 28 May 1983) feature the following floor-stompers:
• "Twist & Crawl"
Despite sweltering heat, The Beat never faltered, giving their all to both shows. This is particularly true of toastmaster/percussionist/rapper and co-lead vocalist "Ranking Roger" (Charlerly). Born in Birmingham, Roger affects a hod Jamaican accent, and never stops moving. More static but no less musically effective are his fellow band mates: Dave Wakeling (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Andy Cox (lead guitar), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums), Wesley Magoogan (saxophone), and keyboardist Dave Blockhead (nee Wright). The group are joined midway through the 1983 set by horn player and retired founding member "Saxa" (born Lionel Augustus Martin), who doubles nicely with Magoogan, his replacement.
Roger aside, The Beat aren't all that visually dynamic, preferring to let their music do the talking. The audiences, however, are a different story and quite a sight! It's particularly interesting to see how both the band and their listeners changed their looks between the first and second shows, reflecting the metamorphosis from the '70s (still fading out in 1982) to the '80s (off to a running start by spring of 1983).
Don't be surprised if many of these songs sound familiar to you. Post-mortem, The Beat's recorded library became one of cinema's hottest items, with John Hughes and Adam Sandler using them repeatedly for soundtrack-lacing purposes. Following their split, two splinter factions went on to greater success: Roger and Wakeling formed General Public, finally cracking the American Top 40 in 1984 with "Tenderness," one of the decade's best records; while Cox and Steele later went multi-platinum as co-founders of Fine Young Cannibals.
From the look of these standard definition 1.33:1 full frame transfers, the shows (shot with several cameras) were obviously meant to be recorded for posterity. Shout! Factory has done a nice job with the picture, which emerges clean, if slightly blanched. Audiophiles have two options, Dolby 5.1 surround or 2.0 Stereo. The sound lags slightly behind the picture, in terms of clarity. I saw Morton's bass drum pulsating more than I heard it, and the reception of the keyboards and bass were strictly hit and miss. One more nit-pick: The credits—where are they?!
Despite minor technical quibbles, The English Beat: Live at the US Festival offer up stellar performances, and are a must-have for any serious fan of '80s music. Shout! Factory was kind enough to include a Bonus CD with selections from each performance, so even after the DVD goes off, The Beat goes on.
Stand down, haters!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Bonus CD
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