Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


The Specials at Higher Ground

Doug Collette By

Sign in to view read count
The Specials
Higher Ground Ballroom
South Burlington, VT
June 23, 2017

It should come as no surprise the larger of the two rooms at Higher Ground was packed for the Specials the night of June 23rd. After all, it was the right evening of the week, as their song alludes ("Friday Night Saturday Morning") and the English Beat had primed the ska/Two-Tone pump in their previous appearances at the Vermont venue.

But Dave Wakeling and co. entice a family-friendly crowd with their witty combination of reggae and pop, while Terry Hall, Lynval Golding et. al. appeal more to the punk demographic. So, the attendees for the Specials were rowdy and fairly raucous throughout the ninety minute set, egged on by a band who, while they may have been surprised at the positive public response when they regrouped in 2008, nevertheless knows how to play to its audience.

The octet spent much of the first half hour deep in a groove, equally resounding and mesmerizing, set by bassist Horace Panter and limber drummer Gary Powell. But the stories of disaffection and dislocation in songs such as "Nite Klub," "Blank Expression" and "Too Much Too Young," while not quite vivid as the Who's Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973), tell much the same story of fashion-conscious dead end kids searching for their own identity. The ambiguity in "(Dawning of A) New Era" is no less potent now than when the band originally recorded it on their eponymous debut album in 1979.

The Specials simultaneously exhibited their savvy and versatility as a band when, at approximately mid-set, guitarist Steve Cradock, Lynval Golding and keyboardist Nikolaj Torp Larsen (on harmonica) played an acoustic version of the late Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." Somewhat muted singalongs erupted from certain pockets of the room at this point, those moments markedly subdued in comparison to the audience's rousing response to Golding's comments on Burlington as the home of Bernie Sanders.

The band evinced further musicianly wisdom right through to the end of the show. Commencing string of short sharp numbers, the Specials set an increasingly up tempo paced as the set progressed; trombonist Tim Smart and trumpeter Pablo Mandleson came and went from the stage where they added just the proper amount of music hall spice, while Panter encouraged audience participation in order to attain a near boiling point intensity. As a result, the back bar area of the ballroom became sparsely populated as people crowded toward the stage at the outset of "A Message to You Rudy," later engaging in another fairly admirable singalong on "Enjoy Yourself."

Frontman Hall was duly impressed at this outpouring of engagement, even if he expressed it ever so facetiously, and his tongue-in-cheek list of thank you's near the conclusion left him at the threshold of snarky. To his credit, he had been proportionately generous in handing out bottles of water to those crowding the stage front throughout the performance, so he couldn't reasonably alienate those fans. Or all the other devotees of the Specials who, satiated after the two-tune encore, slowly departed the club into summer air outside as humid as that from which they had just emerged.



comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC Winter Jazzfest Live Reviews Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 15, 2018
Read Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano Live Reviews Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano
by Keith Henry Brown
Published: January 13, 2018
Read Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café Live Reviews Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 2, 2018
Read Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook Live Reviews Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook
by Troy Dostert
Published: December 29, 2017
Read Gary Peacock Trio at the Regattabar Jazz Club Live Reviews Gary Peacock Trio at the Regattabar Jazz Club
by Nat Seelen
Published: December 27, 2017
Read "Gabrielle Stravelli at The 75 Club" Live Reviews Gabrielle Stravelli at The 75 Club
by Tyran Grillo
Published: December 21, 2017
Read "Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival 2017" Live Reviews Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival 2017
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: June 24, 2017
Read "Fred Hersch's Leaves Of Grass at Jazz at Lincoln Center" Live Reviews Fred Hersch's Leaves Of Grass at Jazz at Lincoln Center
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 26, 2017
Read "Instant Composers Pool at The MAC" Live Reviews Instant Composers Pool at The MAC
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 8, 2017