English Beat/Bam Bam, SXSW 2008, March 13, 2008

I have to confess the English Beat is a glaring hole in my music knowledge. I guess it’s one of those bands I should have grown up listening to but didn’t. I only recognize English Beat because of General Public, whose Top 40 hit "Tenderness" actually managed to reach the airwaves of Honolulu in the mid-’80s. I only vaguely remember the connection between the Beat and Fine Young Cannibals.

Despite that name recognition, I wasn’t on planning to go to the English Beat showcase at SXSW. But Thursday night ended up being a nomadic night, and I ended up there because a friend of mine didn’t realize they were playing and wanted to go.

"Mirror in the Bathroom" was the only thing I recognized because of its use in the soundtrack for Grosse Pointe Blank. And yes, Dave Wakeling, who’s essentially using the name, did bust out "Tenderness" toward the end of the set.

But nope — "Save It for Later" and "Twist and Crawl" didn’t register with me at all. It was like the Bob Mould showcase from last year. I recognized only two songs he played, even though his career spans a good few decades and a number of projects.

Wakeling was the only member of note in the line-up. As Wikipedia explains, Wakeling goes by the English Beat in the US, while Ranking Roger goes by the Beat in the UK. My friend dug the show, but all I could do was just shrug.

It was still a good show, but with my lack of history with the band, it didn’t resonate nearly as much as with the rest of the audience.

My original plan was to split my time between the NACO showcase at Flamingo Cantina and the Rock Out party at Oilcan Harry’s and Rain. I managed to get through Bam Bam, the first band in the NACO showcase.

The Latin rock artists that get the most attention are ones that integrate Latin music with rock, as is the case with Juanes, Maná and Café Tacuba. Bands that don’t integrate tend to have local followings, not reaching the ears of North Americans. Bam Bam had a bit of Latin percussion, but the writing and playing was all rock. British rock of the ’80s, in fact.

They’re certainly distinct from a lot of the Latin rock bands I’ve encountered, but put up against bands that haven’t reached the level of Interpol, the Killers or Franz Ferdinand, they don’t edge out much.

Technical glitches at the start of the showcase didn’t prevent the band from a rousing finish, but the music didn’t quite compel me to invest into the band.

Half way through Bam Bam’s set, my friend showed up, and my plans went out the door.

I had wanted to stick around Rain and Oilcan Harry’s for the rest of the evening to see if the usual thing happens when I go to gay bars — read: nothing — and on that point, I was not disappointed. My friend, though, is a woman, so she was a bit of a cockblocker that night.

Instead, we spent some time at Proof 90 hoping to see if a cute bartender my friend knows was working tonight. He wasn’t.

We went to Rain next, because neither of us had been there. Very clean and nice, but after years of hanging around dingy rock music clubs, I lost my taste for places so … gay. When the sad gay folkie started playing, we decided neither of us had the wherewithal to relegate the music in the background.

We then headed to Room 710 to meet up with another friend who has had a baby a year ago. She doesn’t get to be a rock ‘n’ roll mom very often, and was she that night! Oh, and she had dinner with Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley earlier that day. She’s connected that way.

After that, it was English Beat. And then home.