The Beat – Brixton Academy, London

By paul

The Beat
Saturday 21 March 2009
O2 Academy, Islington
Support: Sonic Boom Six

With reunion and anniversary shows seemingly ten-a-penny lately it?s all too easy to wallow in a quagmire of apathy when one more name pops up on gig listings. Tonight feels different though. Maybe it?s that the socio-political climate is starting to resemble that of the seventies when 2-tone legend The Beat first formed in Birmingham. As it was 30 years ago unemployment is in the ascendancy and the nation is in desperate need of a pick-me-up. Maybe it?s simply that the band?s optimistic messages of love, peace and unity are timeless. Whatever it is, tonight?s gig proves to be an absolute winner.

?The Beat has a very big influence on this band,? Sonic Boom Six bassist Barney Boom announces from the stage. Indeed tonight?s headliner is very much a forefather of the genre mash-up having compounded Jamaican reggae and British punk with both first wave and 2-tone ska. In 45 minutes this evening the current leader in genus-bending jiggery-pokery shows how it?s done, 21st Century style. The ska of ?Sid the Strangler?, the hip-hop of ?Tell Me Something?, the reggae of ?Northern Skies?, and the schizophrenic rap-ska-rock onslaught that is ?Piggy in the Middle? all go a long way to demonstrating the tighter-than-tight sound that has become synonymous with an SB6 gig.

Faced with what is potentially the most difficult audience it?s had to face (the demographic here is about twenty years older than a normal gig) the Manchester outfit not only excels in enticing sing-alongs, skanking and pogoing from the drawn faithful but manages to impress more than a few of the older generation too. I suspect though that a circle-pit proves a little overbearing for some. Still, as the band gears up for album number three (?City Of Thieves? drops on 20 April) tonight doubles-up as a chance to touch base with fans old and new whilst having the personal pleasure of sharing the stage with a truly legendary stimulus. (4/5)

Naysayers will have you believe that this incarnation of The Beat isn?t really The Beat. It?s true that only singer Ranking Roger and drummer Everett Morton remain from the original line-up but throughout 90 minutes you never once think of this as anything but The Beat. Ranking Roger?s son, Ranking Junior, has been installed as an additional vocalist adding a contemporary flavour whilst never detouring far from that traditional sound. Simply put, it?s not a big enough difference to mark out.

As you?d expect of a 30th anniversary show the band pumps out what is essentially a greatest hits set. Early offerings ?Ranking Full Stop? and ?Tears of a Clown? set the crowd on a buoyant journey to nostalgic heaven, mouthed words and dancing aplenty. On stage two generations of Ranking jog on the spot, spring about the stage, and lyrically spar. It?s true poetry in motion. Like father like son.

The likes of ?Big Shot? and ?Rough Rider? haven?t aged a single iota, and a rather predictable modification contemporises ?Stand Down Margaret? into ?Stand Down Gordon?. This fused with ?Get A Job? is dedicated to our Nation?s premier reminding you that The Beat has always been and will always be about direct positive change.

If all that?s not enough to sate the glossy eyed audience, ?Mirror in the Bathroom? airs as a faux set closer before ?Sugar and Stress? and ?Jackpot? bookend an encore. Sitting between these is a solo offering from Ranking Junior which, whilst hinting at blatant self promotion, actually suggests this incarnation of The Beat probably has a longer future than some might think. Either way it?s this closing portion of the gig that has the majority of the audience dancing away. Saturday night in London used to be the time to hit the dancehalls. Tonight it feels like it is again.

Whilst there?s no doubt The Specials reuniting will garner more column inches this year, it?s questionable as to which 2-tone performance will capture the moment best. Given the unfriendly cavernous venues that the Coventry outfit will be gracing it?s certainly not the dead cert you might have thought at the beginning of the year. For now, The Beat and the intimacy of Islington Academy feel just about perfect. (5/5)

Alex Hambleton