The Specials, O2 Brixton Academy

No dewy-eyed nostalgia - just a sense of pride that we were, and now still are, part of a movement that can change hearts and minds.

Read more on The Specials Listen to The Specials on Spotify
Date: 13 May 2009 | By Becky Reed | Rating: 4
The Specials, O2 Brixton Academy

The penultimate night of The Specials' five-date sold-out run at Brixton Academy sees the London venue crammed with a mishmash of an audience. A place where aging skinheads, punks, mods and rude boys jostle good-naturedly - an everlasting impact left from the progressive 2 Tone label in the 1970s - and something missing today; the sense of unity in such a diverse crowd in hostile Britain, where little has changed in the last three decades.

Any reunion after nearly thirty years apart could instil fear that the result would be on the ropey side. After half hour of classic 2 Tone hits getting the crowd in the mood, the minimalist black and white backdrop is revealed and the reunited Specials take to the stage. The ebullient Neville Staple and the dour Terry Hall have lost none of their stage presence, and the entire band (minus Jerry Dammers on keys) are as vibrant and energetic as a band half their age. Black and white TV monitors high up relay the action onstage, but the much publicised absence of Dammers doesn't blot a show that sees Hall and Staple the original and greatest masters of social commentary.

Kicking off with 'Do The Dog', it isn't long before 'Gangsters' is unleashed and the skanking reaches to the back of the venue, pints aflying. This crowd has waited 28 years to see the band play classics such as 'Stereotype' live, and not a moment is wasted. So many bands have tried and failed to reach out politically to their audience in the manner of The Specials, but there's a magic this group possess that the likes of Reverend And The Makers could only dream of emulating. It's the inherent lack of preachiness that helps - the music and what it stands for speaks for itself. The ultimate reflection on their audience's life - the partying and the dancing around chaos, deprivation and ignorance. Thus, the only time Hall speaks is to berate London's football clubs and their fans. Despite having to reschedule the first London date due to a throat infection, Hall sounds in fine form, and his deadpan delivery is faultless. From their famous covers, 'Monkey Man' is a boistrous reggae romp led by Staple, and 'A Message To You Rudy' slows things down, the moshing giving way to full-hearted singing and gentle skanking.

'Ghost Town' loses none of its impact after thirty years, and it's the natural stand-out moment in a solid greatest hits set. 'Too Much Too Young' is biting and relevant even now, and the self-explanatory 'Enjoy Yourself' brings to an end 90 thrilling minutes. No dewy-eyed nostalgia - just a sense of pride that we were, and now still are, part of a movement that can change hearts and minds.