Arriving half an hour early before the doors had opened, I had come across a growing line to get in. This is The English Beat’s third time in Utah in a year. This shouldn’t be too surprising, as Utah’s musical backbone has always seemed a bit checkered. Despite my love for ska, getting me here took some persuasion. The last time I’d seen The English Beat was during a Canyons Resort gig on August 17, 2013 and it had been less than phenomenal. But then again, what does one expect at a resort gig? After some needling from my mate, which included lamenting about vocalist Dave Wakeling’s philosophy on music and blasting English Beat tunes while we were driving around, I decided to give this gig a shot. Besides, what else is there to do on a Wednesday night other than see a legendary band?
After a little turbulence in which my state ID wasn’t behaving with the bouncer’s scanner, I managed to get through the pearly white gates of The Depot. The Depot is certainly one of the more put together venues in Salt Lake City—like a fancy club, with tables along the side, a dance floor in the center and a less-than-cheap bar along the back. With beer in hand, my priority was to peruse the merch table. The English Beat were selling quality shirts with very well done prints. My eyes narrowed on a particular shirt that blends the perfect amount of provocative and controversial. While plotting how to acquire the shirt without paying outrageous ATM fees, I grabbed a table.
Observing the trickle of people coming into the main room every few minutes and then occupying their various corners, I couldn’t help thinking that I may be in a high school: Rockabilly types in one corner, aging rockers in another and so on, all talking among themselves. I sipped my beer to alleviate such illusions and noticed that the speakers were playing some poppy 1990s ska. It seems there was plenty of nostalgia for everyone.
With little warning, the opening act Insatiable pounced onto the stage. The 23-year veterans of the ska scene blasted out ska that sounded poppy, but with a heavier beat and very catchy but not campy sound. After their first number, it would have been easy to write them off, but one must never judge a book by its cover—although they played an occasional breakdown in the middle of a song that didn’t really add anything, but rather created a warped transition into something heavier. Through their set they managed to blend aspects of first-wave ska, reminding me of the Ska-talites, and 1980s second-wave, while interweaving 1990s third-wave into the mix. Not a bad combination, though perhaps better suited for playing in a bar.
Their presence onstage was impressive. They managed to produce an exciting energy that inspired the crowd to move about. Then again, what else does one do at a ska show? Upon hearing that Insatiable were giving out free CDs at the bar, I sauntered over and grabbed one. Luckily, my timing was perfect, as it was just before a surge of people who had once occupied the dance floor overwhelmed the bar in hopes of a free CD. All the while Insatiable knocked out an English Beat number “Save it for Later” and then their classic, “The More I Drink.” The latter inspired mass crowd participation. Kind of in the same way Chuck Berry provoked participation with “My Ding-A-Ling."
I had managed to squeeze my way to the front in the nick of time between the sets. The English Beat’s arrival onstage provoked considerable excitement. Wasting no time, they blasted out “Rough Rider,” “Twist and Crawl” and “Hands Off She’s Mine”—thoroughly enjoyable with a nice beat, the folks to the right and left of me swayed and twisted. During this I tried managing a combination of dancing, snapping some pictures and avoiding getting my nose smashed by the back of some wanker’s head.
The English Beat provided the right mix of ska and pop while also being provoking, but easy to digest. “I Confess,” which had keyboards and soothing vocals, created a perfect 1980s pop song. Tunes such as “Two Swords,” an anti-Nazi number with fantastic rock n’ roll guitar riffs, showed some clear 1970s punk roots. After “Whine and Grine/Stand Down Margret,” an upbeat but foreboding anti-Thatcher song, Wakeling sarcastically concluded the number, saying, “Rest in pieces, Iron Lady”—a notion I can get behind wholeheartedly.
The English Beat played their version of “Save it for Later,” which encouraged the audience to dance and inspired random break-outs of pogoing. Even with the energy channeled into the crowd, they seemed lethargic for the most part, or perhaps to mellow out to shake about. When “Sole Salvation” was played, the crowd seemed to wake up for a brief while. This was short-lived, though. Despite this lack of invigoration from the crowd, The English Beat and notably Wakeling were in good spirits throughout the set. Wakeling, seemingly always in good humor, engaged his audience and genuinely seemed happy to be on stage. Coupled with toaster Antonee First Class, they put on one hell of a performance.
After blasting through several numbers from General Public including “Tenderness,” The English Beat play an encore, of course. The encore would have been great if it had all been in a similar beat to “Mirror in the Bathroom,” a pop number with the right amount of energy to leave good spirited with. Unfortunately, they ended their set with the suitably named number, “End of the Party,” during which I was about to nod off. Concluding the gig, Wakeling offered sage advice for his audience. He said, “If you haven’t already cum tonight, make sure you do so before you go to bed.” Now that’s sound advice.
To give credit where credit is due, my mate was right. It was much more enjoyable gig than the one at the resort the previous summer. I left content and a bit knackered, albeit without the shirt.