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August 2-9, 2006

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English Beat

The English Beat: Veritable Dorian Grays onstage


Twist and Crawl

By Bill Forman

BEAT ON THE BEACH The first time I ever saw a proper band at an amusement park (classmates playing at hometown community day doesn't count) was the fateful evening when Gang of Four played Magic Mountain. Witnessing England's seminal agit-prop band, who were at the time enjoying their first and only stateside chart success, play I Love a Man in a Uniform and other post-punk anthems to a perplexed audience of blond suburbanites (their performance was free with park admission) is the stuff of which memories are surely made. The fact that their performance was presented by Coca Cola made it all the better, and it's perhaps no coincidence that Gang of Four broke up not long after.

I'm happy to report that the English Beat's performance last Friday at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk was nearly as extraordinary, even if it was, by comparison, irony-free. Unlike so many revivalist circuit performers who suffer from missing or dead frontmen, a surfeit of memorable songs, advanced dementia and/or incontinence, the English Beat turned out to be veritable Dorian Grays onstage. Frontman Dave Wakeling looked half his 50 years in a black Fred Perry shirt and white Vox guitar, while Special guitarist Lynval Golding, dapper as ever in porkpie hat and two-tone suit, put at least as much energy into mugging for the crowd as he did playing his guitar.

Which is not to suggest that the music, in any way, came second. Honoring both casual and hard-core fans, the group played a generous a mix of hits (Save It for Later, Rough Rider, Tears of a Clown and Wakeling's General Public hit, Tenderness) and less obvious material (Click Click, I Am Your Flag and the infectious, sign language interpreter-defying Twist and Crawl). Since Boardwalk acts are limited to 45-minute performances (two per evening), Wakeling responded to waves of requests from the audience by singing the odd verse a cappella while tuning his guitar. Here's hoping Wakeling and company make it back this way again soon.

CABRILLO'S LIFE AND TIMES While we're on the subject of virgin experiences, the first time I ever saw a Philip Glass performance with accompanying visuals, it was genuinely awful. A lesser collaboration with Robert Wilson that featured headache-inducing 3-D film imagery, it left me with much the same expression on my face as the blond suburbanites I just finished making fun of above.

So it is with great relief that I can report that the premiere of Life: A Journey Through Time, Glass's collaboration with renowned photographer Frans Lanting, was such an artistic and, judging by the packed Civic auditorium, popular success. The weekend Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music opener depicted nothing less than the history of life on earth through local hero Lanting's stunning photographic images, which were set in motion across three large screens by choreorapher Alexander Nichols.

The score, which the composer pastiched together from lesser-known works, was typical Glass (who, after all, has never met an arpeggio he didn't like). But with Maestra Marin Alsop at the conductor's podium, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra gave it a rhythmically and tonally nuanced performance that will be tough to beat when the work makes its way to larger venues.

The Cabrillo Festival continues through Aug. 13, including performances by Evelyn Glennie and Leila Josefowicz. You can visit or call 831.420.5260 for complete details.

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