“SOLD OUT” announced the marquee over The Saint’s entrance as a crowd lined up along Reno’s midtown on a warm summer evening.
Outside, we tried to recall any scandals or torrid relationship headlines or anything at all involving The English Beat’s frontman, Dave Wakeling, and ultimately couldn’t name a thing. That fact lends itself to Wakeling’s place fitting among the Tom Pettys and James Taylors, those musicians who appeared genuinely disinterested in the industry social circles and instead, simply, seemed focused on passion about the music. And when the band took the stage on Saturday, Aug. 18, this attitude showed.
Wakeling was backed by a six-piece band, all in black Fred Perry shirts, in contrast to his in white, and the musicians were all smiles throughout the set. Pulling from Wakeling’s seven albums with The English Beat and General Public, the band’s song choice made no hesitation in leaning toward the most infectiously dancey songs in his career catalog — “Tenderness” being the first hit that elicited a shockingly giddy round of cheers from the crowd.
“Reno?! I say Re-Yes!” Wakeling chuckled more than once in his comedic and optimistically limerickally phrased banter between songs, and his dad humor seemed to be forgiven by the crowd; “the young and the younger!” From the stage, Antonee First Class smiled to the congertgoers, many of whom clearly had been fans from the band’s ’80s heyday.
Aside from his own strengths as a songwriter, Wakeling also has demonstrated a skill in surrounding himself with complementary musicians – Ranking Roger being his partner throughout The Beat and General Public years. For the past decade, Antonee First Class, a musician born in London to a musically inclined Jamaican family, has been onstage beside Wakeling assuming MC and hype-man duties, his energetic dancing and tongue-twisting reggae-tinged vocal abilities serving to get the crowd moving and flowing right through any lulls between songs.
Additionally, the show was a bit of a homecoming for former Keyser Soze organist Kevin Lum, who is now a member of The English Beat. Wakeling joked that he essentially poached him for his own band from Reno’s Keyser Soze.
After anecdotes of a love song written for his mother, “even if she’s no longer here to hear it,” as well as jokingly taking credit saying that two different “two-term presidents” had used General Public’s version of “I’ll Take You There” on the campaign trail — followed by a sly smile mentioning that the current president didn’t use it — the band’s set culminated in an extended version of “Mirror In The Bathroom,” which took on an almost climactic feeling following a sweaty dance-heavy set.
With one final burst of appreciative handshakes from the stage – even turning the stage’s electric fans to face the front row of the standing-room only floor – the musicians finally went silent almost two hours after they had begun, still smiling as they left the stage, a fitting reflection of the glow over the crowd.
— Shaun Astor