Few bands would gamble on beginning a concert with their biggest and best known hit, for fear of the rest of the set being something of an anticlimax. But The Specials of 2014 are an intrepid bunch and launch straight into Ghost Town, the song that seemed to sum up all the bleakness and social unrest of that riot-filled summer of 1981.
It’s a stunning version too, complete with a haunting string section and an excursion into spacious dub reggae, but far from overshadowing the rest of the evening at a packed O2 Academy Leeds, it actually enhances it.
Indeed as the four original Specials – Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, Horace Panter and John Bradbury – plus a host of recruits including Steve Cradock, guitarist from Ocean Colour Scene, proceed it becomes apparent that their set is an intriguing inversion of the band’s career, working their way back from stop to start.
The jaded cynicism of Friday Night and Saturday Morning, Do Nothing, International Jet Set and Stereotypes – from the band’s second album, More Specials – gradually gives way to the youthful, exuberant, ska-meets punk of Nite Klub, Do The Dog, Monkey Man and Concrete Jungle.
Album tracks such as Man at C&A, Blank Expression and Doesn’t Make It Alright form an interesting bridge between the hits, showing the band had songwriting skill in depth.
By the time they reach their finale, with Too Much Too Young – sarcastically introduced by Hall as his favourite disco number I Will Survive – the place is buzzing. Yet the band keep the song short and tight, leaving the crowd of forty and fifty somethings, as well as younger faces who were not even born when 2-Tone was all the rage, baying for more.
They dutifully oblige, with a blistering rendition of the old Skatalites’ number Guns of Navarone and a hearty Enjoy Yourself which demonstrates the growing guitar interplay between Golding and Cradock (a relationship described by Hall as “like being on stage with the Chuckle Brothers”).
Closing with another Skatalites cover, You’re Wondering Now, it seems hard to believe that this really “is the end”. Yet it is. Until next time.
Gig date: November 10