Two Tone Ska legends The Specials may be missing a few original members at this point, but that certainly didn't stop them from delivering a shattering, nothing-but-the-classics set on Friday, June 9 at Brooklyn Steel. This stop was part of a larger North American tour that also had them performing at Punk Rock Bowling in Asbury Park, NJ the next day. You can see their other dates below.
The Specials are part of a very specific pantheon of ska greats whose unique sound and vital pedigree has unfortunately spawned decades of mediocre and utterly laughable legions of imitators and truly inane sub-genres. I won't use this post as an opportunity to offer a lengthy treatise on ska; that's for another day. But I will say that because of the stigmas associated with the genre, people with perfectly reasonable taste in music might overlook The Specials simply because of the genre they operate in. And that's a shame, because Friday's show was an utter barn-burner and one of the funnest, liveliest shows I have experienced in Brooklyn.
For me, Friday night's show can be split into three distinct acts; Act 1, Act 2, and the encore. Act 1 consisted of nine of the bands more mid-tempo tracks as well as a Bob Marley cover. They kicked things off with "Ghost Town," "Friday Night Saturday Morning," "Do Nothing," "Stereotype," "Man at C&A," "Blank Expression," "Rat Race," and "Tell Me Why" before hitting us with a low-key acoustic version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and looping back to their own classic "Doesn't Make it Alright." This first 10-track offering was executed brilliantly and went by fast. It also seemed to serve to lubricate the crowd and loosen them up for Act 2 which, with the exception of the half-tempo classic "A Message To You Rudy," delivered some of their fiercest, most up-tempo fare which whipped the room into a pogo-ing, skanking frenzy.
It is hard to articulate just how quickly the audience's energy went from 50% - 100%, but when the band teased the slow, swinging intro to "Nite Club," the anticipation in the room was truly palpable. When they finally blasted into the song in earnest, there wasn't a non-dancing body in the room, mine included. Though my "dancing" mainly consisted of me standing a bit further away from the side wall than normal and sort of bobbing my head. But everyone else was going bonkers, dancing, and sing-screaming along. "Dawning of a New Era," "Do the Dog," "Gangsters," and "Concrete Jungle" kept the party going before "Message to You Rudy" came along and gave the place a bit of respite. "Monkey Man," "Little Bitch," "2 Much 2 Young," "Enjoy Yourself" finished off the main set and really kept everyone going. They wrapped up the show with "Guns of Navarone" and the wind-down ballad "You're Wondering Now."
I am not really a "vibe" guy, but I gotta say that the vibe in Brooklyn Steel during The Specials was one of categorical positivity, with a singular vision of partying, having fun, and letting it all hang out. Singer Terry Hall always strikes me as a morose dude. His stage presence gives me the vibe that he'd rather be someplace else. He even mused early in the set that we should prepare for another "65 minutes of undiluted pessimism." But there was nothing that could weaken the spirit of all in attendance. The Specials proved once again that they are masters of their genre and showmen of the highest order.
The Specials : 6/9/17 : Brooklyn Steel
Friday Night Saturday Morning
Man at C&A
Tell Me Why
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Doesn't Make it Alright
Nite Club got the whole place jumping
Dawning of a New Era
Do the Dog
Message to You Rudy
2 Much 2 Young
Guns of Navarone
You're Wondering Now
The Specials : North American Tour Dates : 2017
June 12 : Crystal Ballroom, Portland OR
June 13 : The Showbox, Seattle WA
June 16 : House of Blues, San Diego CA
June 17 : Mountain Winery, Saratoga CA
June 18 : Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles CA
June 22 : Sound Stage Baltimore, Baltimore MD
June 23 : Higher Ground, Burlington VT
June 24 : Amnesia Rockfest, Montebello QC