Friday, September 9, 2016

The Specials at Terminal 5

Terry Hall
In the midst of a political and social upheaval in 1977 England, the Automatics began playing politically-charged reggae and punk music in Coventry; the band would soon be known as the Coventry Automatics. The band eventually switched to ska music and alternately became the Specials and the Special AKA. Beginning the early 1980s, the band split, reformed and formed splinter groups many times. The present band includes three early members, vocalist Terry Hall, rhythm guitarist Lynval Golding, and bassist Horace "Sir Horace Gentleman" Panter, along with new members, lead guitarist Steve Cradock, keyboardist Nikolaj Torp Larsen, drummer Gary Powell and a horn section comprised of Tim Smart (trombone), Drew Stansall (saxophone, flute) and Pablo Mandleson (trumpet). The Specials' most recent studio album is 2001's Conquering Ruler.

With each tour, the Specials seem to have a change in its core line-up. Since the Specials last performed in New York in 2013, vocalist/guitarist Roddy Radiation left and drummer John Bradbury died, replaced on this tour by the drummer of the Libertines. With no new songs, this means the band plays the same songs, but perhaps with a slight change in sound. Radiation's rockabilly-styled guitar playing was missing this time, and perhaps this contributed to the slow, moody sense of the first half of the band's set. The set opened with Hall and Golding trading vocals on "Ghost Town," featuring lyrics that spoke of the state of unemployment in England when it was written about 1980. This was followed by several more down tempo songs; the set only started to pick up with "Rat Race." The stronger part of the set was towards the end, when the band played six covers, including Rufus Thomas' "Do the Dog," Dandy Livingstone's "A Message to You, Rudy" and Toots & the Maytals' "Monkey Man." For the encores, the Specials covered two songs by the Skatalites and one by Prince Buster, who had died the night before. In essence, this version of the Specials took a hearty nostalgic look back but did not necessarily try to improve upon its former self; the challenge was simply in keeping the band going without several of its key originators.

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