The Specials at Vic Theatre | Concert preview
Socially-conscious ska revivalists return.
From Chicago’s perspective, ska revivals aren’t world-moving. In the ’90s, the so-called third wave was characterized by pun names, pop-punk sounds and band geek brass-blowers surprised to find themselves on punk stages. Since then, survivors seem more like Civil War reenactors, with locals Deal’s Gone Bad, the occasional sound system DJ and promoters like Chuck Wren faithfully committing to the sounds of ’60s-era Jamaican ska, which is enjoyable but, by definition, not groundbreaking. So it’s worth remembering that the original revival, made flesh by England’s Specials and their 2 Tone label, was in fact special.
Formed in 1977, the Specials, like their peers the Clash, combined the sounds of England’s punk scene with the Motown-inspired pop of West Indian immigrants. But the Specials inverted the balance, bringing the Island sounds to the forefront. More than a musical miscegenation, the band was multiracial and lyrically anti-racist (an important distinction, as the skinhead scene polarized into factions of ska-loving integrators and pub-rocking white supremacists). Though some of their hits were remakes of Jamaican classics (“Al Capone,” “A Message to You, Rudy”), their most enduring songs were socially conscious originals like “Nelson Mandela” and “Ghost Town.”
The Specials broke up in the mid-’80s and have since toured in numerous reunion configurations, but every offshoot has been compelling. So despite notable absences, the current lineup should still prove more special than anything stamped “ska” over the last quarter century.