Friday, September 13, 2019

Duff Gig Review: The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar at The Gramercy Theatre (9/11/19)

The Selecter with Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson
(Review by Steve Shafer)

With the clock quickly running out on 2 Tone's 40th anniversary year--coupled with a general dearth of related events in the USA (The Specials' Encore tour doesn't really count)--it was phenomenal to have the opportunity to catch The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar (of The Bodysnatchers and The Special AKA), both of whom put on extraordinary performances that celebrated and honored their own--and 2 Tone's--legacy, while reminding us why they and their music are still powerfully relevant all these years later. I've caught The Selecter during their two previous visits to New York City (on 9/20/2013 and 10/6/16, which I reviewed here) and have never been disappointed; they give their all, always impressing and entertaining the crowd (this evening, I danced with my friends and members of Barbicide and The Twilights the entire time). And it was an historic night--Rhoda Dakar hasn't played Gotham since 1981!

In lieu of an opening act (more on that later), Rhoda Dakar served as house DJ, spinning a great mix of old school ska and reggae that had the fans openly grooving while maintaining their desired spots down front. The Selecter then took the stage to a recording of "The Selecter" and served up a positively stellar set! Pauline Black and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson were thoroughly engaging and the rest of the band (Winston Marche on drums, "Tommy"-era Oliver Reed look-alike John Robertson on guitar, Andrew Pearson on bass, Lee Horsley on organ, and Neil Pyzer-Skeete on tenor sax) were in top form. They played the expected hits and more their 2 Tone days, including "Three Minute Hero," "On My Radio," "Out on the Streets," "Murder," "Missing Words," "Danger," "Black and Blue," "The Whisper," "Train to Skaville," "Carry Go Bring Come," and Gaps' spotlight at the mic (and fave of mine), "(Who Likes) Facing Situations."

Rhoda Dakar with The Selecter
One notable portion of The Selecter's show was sharply political, beginning with their cover of The Pioneers "Time Hard" ("Everyday, things are getting worse"), which Black aimed at both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump in her intro; followed by "Frontline," their call to action/engagement for people who think that posts on social media can address inequity and bring about societal change ("My mind is full/my heart is empty/It's hard to live/In a world of plenty/The more I see/The less I feel/You sell me dreams/But they're not real..I need to believe/In something more/Than I wanna stay free"--which also references the police killing of Eric Garner: "I saw a man/Punched off his feet...He shouted out/'Now, I can't breathe!'"--from their Daylight album, reviewed by me here). They then moved on to the devastating "Breakdown," their "Ghost Town" of sorts for the 21st century from Subculture (reviewed here), which is about how societal and government institutional dysfunction/failure to address systemic racism and poverty leads to the extrajudicial police killings of unarmed black people (the band bowed their heads as a short tape was played listing some of the names of the black boys, men, and women unjustly killed by the police in the UK and USA)--and finished with their haunting anti-gun/anti-revenge/anti-violence song, "Celebrate the Bullet" ("Put your finger on the trigger/But you don't have to pull it/'Cos you know it won't bring them/Back to you"). The cumulative effect of this sequence of tracks was stunning.

After performing a blistering rendition of "On My Radio" (Pauline commented that back in the day only Rodney Bingenheimer at KROQ played ska on the radio in America--though WLIR showed them lots of love in the NYC area, too!), Pauline and Gaps left the stage for the band to back Rhoda Dakar for her two hits with The Bodysnatchers, "Let's Do Rock Steady" and the gender-parity asserting "Ruder Than You" (co-written by the band with Gaz Mayall). Dakar was in fantastic voice and it was thrilling to (finally!) see and hear the other--and essential--2 Tone female singer live in person. My only complaint would be that I would have loved to have heard a few more songs from her (several years ago, Dakar recorded an album of Bodysnatchers tracks, and has released a few EPs of new material, all very highly recommended).

Pauline and Gaps then returned to the stage with Rhoda and all three sang a raucous version of "Too Much Pressure, which incorporated Toots and the Maytals "Pressure Drop."

Rhoda Dakar with members of the FDNY.
Since they were playing in New York City on the anniversary of 9/11, The Selecter had arranged for union members of the FDNY to come on stage, where Dakar read a message of support, thanks, and solidarity from their firefighting colleagues in London. The night concluded with a spirited rendition of Prince Buster's "Madness." On a day commemorating the missing among us, left unspoken--given the superseding and momentous significance of this date--was the 2 Tone musician heartbreakingly absent from this tour: Ranking Roger (whose permutation of The Beat had toured with The Selecter in the UK last year and was scheduled to visit America, had his cancer not intervened; Roger very much had hoped to participate in 2 Tone 40th anniversary events like this). A purloined Selecter set list indicates that on some dates of this tour, the band is playing "Can't Get Used to Losing You" in his memory.

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Afterward, at the merch table, where Pauline, Gaps, and Rhoda are more than happy to chat, sign things, and pose for pictures with fans, I overheard Rhoda responding to compliment on her singing on The Special AKA's In the Studio by telling a fan that to this day she's never listened to that record (still a shock to hear, even though I know she's stated in the past that the recording of that album was such a torturous, drawn-out process that she could never bear hearing it; her work on In the Studio is absolutely fantastic and completely essential to its success--hopefully someday she can find a way to put that all aside and focus on the brilliance of the music she helped create).

The Duff Guide with the wonderful Rhoda Dakar
When I went to buy a Selecter shirt (I bought a Bodysnatchers one from Rhoda, too), Pauline gave me the side-eye and commented on my bootleg 2 Tone tour t-shirt (see picture at right)--though in all fairness the rampant, out-of-control bootlegging of all things 2 Tone back in '79/'80 certainly denied all involved of rightfully deserved income and was one of the reasons The Selecter left 2 Tone after their first LP (I bashfully apologized and pointed out how I was in the act of buying an official Selecter shirt from her!). I also managed to squeeze in a short conversation with Gaps, who's always really lovely to talk with.

If the Selecter/Rhoda Dakar 40th Anniversary Tour comes anywhere near you (dates below), do not miss them (also, bring some extra bucks to buy some merch, as it really helps to make tours like this one financially feasible--musicians need to earn a living, too; also note that The Selecter has vinyl copies of their two most recent albums with them for sale, if you don't already have them).

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The Selecter/Rhoda Dakar 40th Anniversary Tour US Dates

9/12/19: Sommerville, MA - Once Ballroom
9/13/19: Kent, OH - The Kent Stage
**9/14/19: Chicago, IL - Riot Fest (The Selecter performs the Too Much Pressure album)
***Also on 9/14/19: Chicago, IL - Reggie's (Rhoda Dakar backed by The Crombies)
9/15/19: Denver, CO - Marquis Theater
9/17/19: San Francisco, CA - Mezzanine
9/18/19: San Diego, CA - Casbah
9/19/19: San Diego, CA - Casbah
9/20/19: Hermosa Beach, CA - Saint Rocke
9/21/19: Pomona, CA - The Glass House

Note: The Chicago dates above are not officially part of this tour--The Selecter is at Riot Fest without Dakar, who plays at Reggie's backed by The Crombies!

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