The Specials

The reunited ska-revival masters skank to the beat at Terminal 5.

Terminal 5; Tue 20, Wed 21

The Specials may have been the greatest cover band in history. They sprung from punk nihilism with a contradictory mix of despondency and optimism that unified the 1960s sides they cribbed for their first album, a 1979 self-titled disc produced by Elvis Costello. Just a couple of years after Johnny Rotten issued orders to destroy, here they were—well-dressed and interracial—proclaiming the dawning of a new era while playing songs about street violence, unemployment, birth control and dancing. When frontman Terry Hall sang, “Just because you’re a black boy / Just because you’re a white / It doesn’t mean you’ve got to hate him / It doesn’t mean you’ve go to fight,” it was with a quaintness born of truth-telling.

The band borrowed its sound and style from the British-Jamaican ska movement of the ’60s, but in accord with the punk and new wave of its day, the group pulled the horns back and pushed the guitar up, with Hall’s monotone stridency lending a weight the proto-reggae grooves had lacked. But the group barely made it into the ’80s before splintering into the Special AKA, Fun Boy Three and then, in 1996, a reunited Specials lacking principals Hall and Jerry Dammers. (The latter is currently leading a big band performing Specials and Sun Ra tunes called—no lie—the Spatial AKA Arkestra.) But this week, on the heels of their Coachella set, Hall & Co. play New York for the first time since 1980. Starch your collars and block your hats.—Kurt Gottschalk

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