Photo/Review: Is this the in place to be? Yes, yes it is. THE SPECIALS return for their 40th Anniversary Encore.

“Guess where this guy was at 9:40 tonight?”, The Specials singer Terry Hall asks the audience in a rare moment of…unusually normal onstage banter, while hovering next to guitarist Lynval Golding. Nine-forty was precisely 2o minutes before The Specials were due on stage at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom, and apparently Lynval was, “asleep in bed,” he laughs, claiming he’s still on “England time.”

It’s a rare – but not the only – moment of humour from The Specials’ lead singer, who spends most of his lifetime on stages gripping his mic for his life, looking pissed off, or angrily confused while staring down a punter’s face or something going on inside his head. And that’s okay. Hall recently shared about his trials dealing with decades of depression, and everyone in the room knows that the stage isn’t where he’s most comfortable, but are there to cheer him on anyway. So they do. They cheer Terry Hall on, they cheer Lynval Golding on, they cheer Horace Panter on. The last three original members. And tonight they also cheer on touring guitarist Steve Cradock (best known for his time in Ocean Colour Scene and as Paul Weller’s guitarist) and the rest of The Specials on-tour crew.

Two Tone Twenty Times Two

It’s been 40 years of having The Specials’ music in our lives, and judging by the suited-and-booted rude boys, the trilby- and narrow-brimmed fedora-wearing old boys in attendance, most of us in the room have spent a lot of that time loving the band. We’re happy to have them back. Another kick at the can, another chance to relive the time when, say, our friends dubbed their music on a cassette tape and gave it to us when we were 12 and we became obsessed, digging deep into Two Tone and ska and black and white brother creepers. Not just me, then?

Tonight their set is a glorious mix of the classics we’re all there for, people are skanking to “Nite Klub”, “Do the Dog”, “A Message to You Rudy” and beaming through precisely ALL the other greatest hits – because they were pretty much all there. “Man at C&A”, “Rat Race”, “Monkey Man,” yup, them too.

New Life

But there’s also new growth in the garden, and since the band released its first album in three decades this past year, with the album Encore, the set’s got “Vote for Me”, “Embarrassed By You”, “Blam Blam Fever” and the absolutely pristine and slightly meta cover of “The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum”, originally released by Hall’s other band, Fun Boy Three. It’s a practical set, not as carefree and energetic as one’s seen them in the past (and we do miss seeing Roddy Radiation bounding about, though Cradock is a fine sub), but it hardly matters. They still sound tremendous. Young activist Saffiyah Khan also makes an appearance on stage for her awesome anti-Prince Buster manifesto “Ten Commandments” and the final Skatalites cover “You’re Wondering Now.” Everyone sings along and the band quiets while the room takes over – “you’re wondering now/what to do/now you know this is the end”  the room sways and sings.”If you could just keep doing that for…another two years,” Hall jokes, and we’re happy. And for a moment, it looks like he was, too. \m/

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