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Celebrating 40 Years of Music with The Specials at First Ave

Terry Hall and The Specials at First Avenue

It’s always a treat to see a band like The Specials, who have their own star on First Avenue’s famed outside wall, grace the stage. On the Minneapolis stop of their 40-year anniversary tour, they proved they still belonged on the stage, and on the wall of silver stars.

It’s difficult to imagine what the musical landscape was like when The Specials first started playing together over 40 years ago. Punk was still in its infancy and ska wasn’t exactly charting music, but those seven original members managed to merge two unlikely genres together to form something playful with attitude, and left enough room to push a message.

We’re in a time where artists stating their support for specific policies or politicians is often met with demands like “stay in your lane” or “keep politics out of your Instagram feed,” as if people who make music are only allowed a single pursuit, that their opinions should somehow be separated from their brand. With The Specials, they’ve left little room for ambiguity. Building on their long history of political messaging, they plastered the backdrop of their stage with a quilt of protest signs, some tongue in cheek, and others markedly less so. “Listen to Sly and the Family Stone” falling squarely in the former camp.

Horace Panter of The Specials at First Avenue
Photo by Benjamin Allen

Lead singer Terry Hall pushed their message even further between songs, especially in his introduction to rhythm guitarist, vocalist, and fellow founding member Lynval Golding.

“On guitar is Lynval Golding, everybody welcome Lynval. I love this man, I love him so much that I’m going to marry him. We’re going to get married and move to…Alabama. I’m going to get him pregnant,” he paused, then deadpanned, “and then we’re going to get an abortion.”

The Specials had a new member, playing his first show of the tour, who looked as though he could feasibly be the grandson of one of the original band members. Honestly, Coby Fletcher looked to be about fifteen years old.

For a band with as many personnel changes as The Specials have had over the years (Wikipedia has a handy chart for those interested), the replacement process must be pretty slick by now.

Terry, Horace, and Lynval of The Specials at First Avenue
Photo by Benjamin Allen

Between every few songs, Terry Hall opened the dialogue with the audience, sometimes manufacturing interactions, such as:

“Okay, it’s time for the trivia portion of the night, who’s got a question? (slight pause) Yes? Who was the 15th president of the United States? (Nobody had asked that question) That would be James Buchanan. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen!”

But others were real interactions, like his back and forth with someone in the front row named Kevin. Hall pointed out the orange earplugs Kevin sported and gave him some grief about how bright and orange they were, then asked if he took them hunting.

Lynval Golding of The Specials at First Avenue
Photo by Benjamin Allen

For being four decades into a project, the band still sounded lively, like they wanted and deserved to be on stage. The most lively member was undoubtedly Lynval Golding, who bopped and danced around the stage and tipped his hat to the crowd any time they cheered for him, which happened quite a bit over the course of the night.

It was a great performance and a solid night of music. They are legends for a reason, and a group I can finally check off my bucket list. Hopefully, you can, too.

You can find a full album of concert photos on my Flickr.

Written by Benjamin Allen

In my photography, I try to tell the story of the relationship of people that create music and those that experience it through pictures. I’m drawn to rainbows like a moth to a big, beautiful flame.

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