The Selecter’s dynamic vocalists, Pauline Black and Arthur Hendrickson, kicked off the eight-piece two-tone ska band’s packed show at Discovery Ventura last Wednesday, Aug. 23, with a proclamation (imagine a lovely British accent for full effect): “Hello all you wonderful people of Ventura; we have come to give you a blessing of two-tone magic!”
For those in need of a primer: Two-tone ska began in the late 1970s in the U.K. and featured a punk injection into the traditional elements of Jamaican ska. The most memorable bands of the era on the 2 Tone Records label were The Specials, Madness and yes, The Selecter — the latter fronted by Black, one of few females in the acts. The band’s been through a few lineup changes, breakups and shakeups throughout the years, but Black and Hendrickson have both long been a part of the crew.
While checkerboard black-and-white styling was part of the scene, two-tone also meant diversity. Black told me before the show: “It was an umbrella — that two-tone movement — to bring together a lot of subcultures that we knew about. Rude boys, mods, punks, northern soulers, all of those could unite under this umbrella of two-tone, and that covered black people and white people and all those shades in between. When we took that out on tour, on the two-tone tour, that was three bands coming together, two of them racially mixed bands, and we all seemed to be singing from the same hymn book.”
At Discovery some three decades later, for what Black believes was their first-ever Ventura show, The Selecter kicked things off with some tracks off a new full-length album, Daylight, to be released in October. These included the title track and “The Big Badoof,” mixed in with songs from its full back catalogue, including “Three Minute Hero” and “Missing Words” from the debut album Too Much Pressure (1980). Arguably the band’s biggest hits “Too Much Pressure” and “On My Radio” (also from the debut album), were saved until the very end of the proper, pre-encore set.
Band members frequently interacted with the crowd, asking how everyone was doing, encouraging dancing, and holding out the mic for singalongs. Black joked with a bearded fellow up front wearing a Specials shirt, “You need a new shirt! Coming to a Selecter show wearing a Specials shirt,” she laughed, a sparkle in her eye.
Black’s own style is a long-standing tradition as well: black suit, checkerboard shirt and penny loafers were topped off by a porkpie hat and freshly painted red lips, while Hendrickson actively sweated through a stylish gray suit, black shirt, white tie — the third of which he triumphantly twisted out with sweat during the encore, after dancing through every song of the night.
One poignant moment came midway through the night: “This song is dedicated to Heather Heyer,” Black told the crowd, “who was killed while protesting in Chartlottesville.”
The band then launched into its joyous, upbeat new single “Frontline,” off Daylight. Before the show, Black had told me that “Frontline” was about the double-edged sword of social media, which both brings communities together and rips them apart with trolling, as well as people being constantly bombarded with empty adverts, and the ease of becoming “keyboard warriors” using hashtags to simplify complicated situations and feel active.
“The frontline used to be when people went out on the streets,” she explained. During the show she added: “[Heyer] knew what it was to be on the frontline!”
And that’s the paradoxical element to the long-running band and perhaps the two-tone ska scene itself. While political, topical and challenging threads will always run throughout its lyrics and sentiments, The Selecter’s music is inherently upbeat, positive and, perhaps most important, wildly danceable.
And the Discovery crowd did dance — ranging in age from early 20s to likely 50s, people jumped, skanked, pogoed and circled as the fiery band played on.
For more on The Selecter, visit theselecter.net.