If you cover enough music, you live to see some pretty odd lineups (like Weird Al at last year’s Governors Ball for instance). Make no mistake that the co-headlining tour between 80s ska band The English Beat and 90s grunge pop mavens Soul Asylum is pretty inexplicable.
On July 1st, the tour settled into Ridgefield, CT. Seated at the line between Connecticut and New York, the quaint town could’ve easily been the basis for Stars Hollow. Their only venue is Ridgefield Playhouse which is in the same building as the town hall, the board of education, the town skate park, and the Chef’s Warehouse headquarters. With a 500 person capacity, to call the venue intimate is an understatement.
When Soul Asylum took the stage at 7:30pm, the venue was still half empty. The crowd that had made it in had already taken seats after grabbing a glass of wine from the concession stands. Kicking off with their 1992 hit, “Somebody to Shove,” the track might have actually been too new for many in the crowd to remember it. As the set wore on, it became apparent that lead singer and only remaining original member, Dave Pirner was struggling with his vocals. The rendition of 1995’s “Eyes of a Child” required a lot of help from the backup vocalists to get through. Luckily they followed that with “Runaway Train” which the crowd had no problem singing for Dave. Bassist Winston Rowe did have a little trouble seeming interested during the track, letting out quite a hefty yawn in the middle of it.
The band left the stage (save for Prince and The New Power Generation drummer Michael Bland who had no interest in theatrics). Although there wasn’t a loud clamoring for an encore as much of the crowd stood up to rush out to the concession stands for more booze, the band came back out to play a two song encore: “Doomsday” from this year’s Change of Fortune album and “April Fool,” a deep cut from their 1992 hit album, Grave Dancers Union. The crowd that had stood up to leave, remained standing for the two tracks. It marked the first time more than five people were standing at once during their set.
After a short intermission, The English Beat took the stage. It was immediately apparent that this is who the crowd came to see. It was the first time the venue looked full as 500 people stood as one to dance to a cover of Prince Buster’s “Rough Rider” followed by one of the band’s major hits, a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown.” Even through new tracks like “The Love You Give Lasts Forever” or “Rude Boy Skank,” the crowd still danced. The English Beat played their other major hits “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Save It For Later” along with Dave Wakeling’s other band General Public’s “Tenderness.”
The crowd exitted sweaty and drunk off of wine or Tanqueray. Considering the crowd’s reaction to Soul Asylum, they exceeded expectations exponentially with their non-stop dancing to The English Beat. With a co-headlining tour like this, you would expect the crowd to be more evenly split but clearly Ridgefield wanted ska and that they got.