Sound Advice: : Ollabelle, Sea Wolf and English Beat

Upcoming concert previews of note

Redbird Management

Sea Wolf

The English Beat with 311 and Matisyahu

Wednesday · Riverbend

I'll be honest: When I saw the announcement for shows coming to Riverbend this summer, there wasn't one thing that really made me want to go to the outdoor amphitheater. But then the English Beat was added to the 311 show as opener. The English Beat? Could it be true? One of the most eclectic and inventive bands to ever come out of Ska (any era) is opening for 311?

They are indeed opening, but it isn't quite the "real" English Beat from the late '70s/early '80s. But after hearing main Beat-er Dave Wakeling do some radio performances as The Beat recently, it's clear this is his thing and he can do what he wants with it (apparently he owns the name too). The difference between he and most other bandleaders who go on with not other original members is that Wakeling is doing it incredibly well.

The Beat came up in the Two-Tone Ska revival in the U.K. in the late '70s, but the band proved it was much more than a Ska act on its next two albums. Just Can't Stop It stands as one of the greatest Two-Tone-era Ska albums, merging politics, Pop and Punk into their urgent, passionate mix.

Their Wha'ppen? album is an overlooked classic, showing broader influences and hovering on a Calypso/tropical island vibe. Special Beat Service earned the band their biggest U.S. college radio hits with songs like "Save It for Later" and "I Confess." Just as it seemed the group was on the brink of an even bigger splash in the U.S., they fell apart. "Toasting" master Ranking Roger and Wakeling found Pop success in the U.S. with General Public, and since then Wakeling has worked on a solo career.

More recently, the English Beat were sabotaged by that weird Bands Reunited show on VH1, where some guy stalks former members of various '80s bands and tries to get them to do a one-night only reunion for the cameras. The members who went on to Fine Young Cannibals were apparently the ones who bailed, and who can blame them: The show's pressure to do the one-off is so annoying (and rushed) I can't understand why anyone with a legitimate career still would agree to it. On that show, Wakeling got together with Roger, Saxa and drummer Everett Morton to at least talk. There was some bad blood, but by the looks of the show it seemed at least possible that a partial Beat reunion could happen. Alas, Wakeling is currently the only original member, though he's fleshed out his backing band with some well-known Ska stars (including members of The Specials). Pato Banton is listed as "special guest," so I can only imagine he'll be making like Ranking Roger's understudy and handling his vocals.

The current-day English Beat reportedly does material from General Public and Dave's solo song catalog, but I'd expect their appearance at Riverbend to be really fan-friendly, so you'll likely hear all of your favorite Beat songs. And if you don't have a favorite Beat song because you've never heard them, get to this show early and see why bands like No Doubt have called the Beat a huge inspiration and artists from Elvis Costello to Pete Townshend have covered Wakeling's songs. (Mike Breen)


Thursday · Southgate House

Many significant changes have occurred in Ollabelle's world since their astonishing 2004 self-titled debut, produced by T-Bone Burnett and acclaimed by nearly everyone who heard it. Structurally, Ollabelle has been pared down to a quintet with the exit of guitarist Jimi Zhivago, whose role was absorbed by vocalist Fiona McBain. Administratively, the band has moved from Burnett's DMZ imprint through Sony and signed with Verve Forecast, a Universal arm. Musically, Ollabelle has experienced the greatest shift, as evidenced by their most recent sophomore album, Riverside Battle Songs.

Before recording their debut, Ollabelle — named in honor of traditional Country singer Ola Belle Reed — was more a loose collective of musicians than an actual band. Having coalesced when rotating and disparate members (including McBain, Zhivago, keyboardist Glenn Patscha, bassist Byron Isaacs, Jazz drummer Tony Leone and vocalist Amy Helm, daughter of the Band's Levon Helm), they assembled for regular Gospel night shows at 9C, a popular East Village Folk club in New York City. By the time they recorded their debut, Ollabelle was still playing primarily covers of old traditional Bluegrass, Folk and Gospel tunes along with a handful of originals and that's what they took into the studio.

For Riverside Battle Songs, Ollabelle reversed the ratio, with a handful of traditional covers and a majority of like-minded originals. The other significant change concerns the band's sonics, as they've moved away from the Ambient Dub Gospel texturalism that was woven into their debut in favor of a more straightforward Bluegrass/Folk/Blues approach, courtesy of producer/longtime Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell. Perhaps the biggest change for Ollabelle is the fact that the collective has transformed into an actual band, touring, writing and recording as a group with a unified focus. The years of performing traditional material has clearly paid off for Ollabelle, as the original songs on Riverside Battle Songs stand shoulder to shoulder stylistically with the cover material the band has done since their inception. (Brian Baker)

Sea Wolf with Silversun Pickups

Friday · Southgate House

Five years ago, Alex Brown Church was the founding bassist for the California Psych/Pop band Irving and getting pretty good notices in the process. But for Brown, there was a sense of dissatisfaction with the arm's-distance material he was writing for Irving, as if the songs were created without utilizing his vast and varied childhood experiences. As a result, the songs came out sonically arresting but personally empty.

As a child, Brown journeyed around the world with his mother, notching stops in Alaska and Hawaii and eventually spending nearly a year living in a tent in France, but the bulk of his upbringing took place in the Bay Area. After high school, Brown relocated to New York, enrolled in NYU's film school and returned to California after graduation where he ultimately formed Irving and began exploring the songwriting muse that had struck him while he was still on the East Coast.

Irving gave Brown the opportunity to build his songwriting muscles but being one of four contributing writers left him with the sense that writing on his own might yield different and more personal results. In 2000, he began to explore his own songwriting style, incorporating the emotional depth of his childhood experiences and the cinematically narrative voice he had developed as a film student. These songs became the foundation for Brown's solo persona as Sea Wolf, which finally emerged in 2003 with his first gig at the Silverlake Lounge. Sessions with veteran Indie producer Phil Ek (Band of Horses, The Shins) in 2005 boosted confidence, ultimately leading to a month-long residency at L.A.'s vaunted Spaceland in 2006 where Sea Wolf was ecstatically received and reviewed. Brown's official debut as Sea Wolf, the five-song EP Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low, has been equally well-received, garnering comparisons to an Arcade Fire tribute to Tom Petty and Leonard Cohen. Brown's first hotly anticipated full-length CD will bow in September. (BB)

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