Brighton Dome ★★★★★
THIS was The Specials but not exactly as you know them. Just as they adroitly walked the tightrope between expectation and progression on their excellent new album, Encore, so their performance here was both perfectly judged and an absolute blast.
Three of the classic line-up remain: frontman Terry Hall, rhythm guitarist/vocalist Lynval Golding, and bassist Horace Panter, in the form of his life.
It may be heresy to say it but the supple and inventive band they have assembled around them is giving the old songs a much-needed new life.
And the new numbers seem to have liberated and revitalised a group who, ten years ago, were playing what Hall then called a ‘nostalgia knees-up’ with fidelity and accomplishment but nowhere near as much zest.
These versions were slightly looser, subtly fancier, starting off with little frills and curlicues of brass and guitar, evoking jazz and afrobeat.
Then, gradually enough not to scare the horses, they shifted into a slow-burning dub mode augmented with molten rock guitar, sounding more like The Clash circa Sandinista than The Specials themselves in 1979.
When Saffiyah Khan, famously pictured staring and grinning down the racist fash trash of the EDL, reprised her spoken turn on Encore’s 10 Commandments, it was an experience of knockout bravura — all that courage and contempt channelled into something both punk rock and fully of our moment.
To the question that might fairly be raised of their 40th anniversary tour — is it really the same band without more than half of its original members and principal songwriter — The Specials have delivered the best possible answer: when the show’s this pulsating, who cares?