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The Specials Return in Grand Style at Coachella


Boy, oh boy, did the Specials get their skank on at Coachella Friday afternoon.

The reunited English band, one of the pioneers of “2 Tone” ska-punk music, played their second U.S. show in nearly three decades (their first was a L.A. warm-up gig the night before) and they must’ve been hanging out at the Red Bull tent beforehand. Though the bandmembers are all over 50, they hopped, skipped, spun, and danced non-stop all over the stage. It was like a ska-punk fitness class.

The 10-piece band — all original members, missing only founding keyboardist/songwriter Jerry Dammers — blasted out classics like “A Message To You, Rudy,” “Do the Dog,” and “Monkey Man.”

Organs soared, a three-piece horn section blared, and lead singer Terry Hall shuffled his feet and spat lyrics in an upbeat reggae cadence, as bassist Horace Panter fingered nimble dub lines, drummer John Bradbury cracked echoing rimshots, and Roddy Byers and Lynval Golding traded slinky guitar riffs.

“That’s a dance-y song — you can dance to it,” singer Neville Staple said of “Monkey Man.” You bet your checkered pants and mohawk you can dance to it — and most fans at the Beer Garden stage did just that.

The Specials’ political message, informed by England’s depressed economy in the ’70s and the band’s roots in the bleak urban counties of the West Midlands, rang true in tracks like “Ghost Town” and “Rat Race”: “Working for the rat race / You know you’re wasting your time / Working for the rat race / You’re no friend of mine.” Others, like “Concrete Jungle,” explored racial and ethnic violence.

The Specials’ musical influence — explored and celebrated in a recent SPIN feature — helped shape the sounds of No Doubt, Rancid, Sublime, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Reel Big Fish, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and just about every ska-punk band that came after them.

Better yet, their live show is a total hoot.