Two is the magic number for the world- renowned second-wave ska bands coming to Sacramento for upcoming shows.
Let us count the ways:
1. The Selecter and the English Beat will play within two days of each other, with both shows at Ace of Spades. The Selecter performs Wednesday with Lee "Scratch" Perry; the English Beat headlines next Friday.
2. The two bands released music on 2 Tone records of England, home base for the second-wave ska bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Adding to this second wind of popularity for second-wave ska, the Specials performed at San Francisco's Warfield Theater on March 23, marking their first Bay Area show in three decades.
"It's a British invasion," said Dave Wakeling, frontman and co-founder of the English Beat, in a call from Minnesota, where the band was touring. "There seems to be another ska wave starting up."
The roots of ska go back to Jamaica in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Acts such as Prince Buster and the Skatalites fused Carribbean rhythms with American rhythm and blues and other upbeat flourishes.
The second-wave ska bands upped the tempo and urgency with a punk-rock sensibility. It was more than just a music style; it also was the soundtrack for "mod" and skinhead subcultures.
2 Tone records helped set the style, with its checkered black-and-white graphics and musicians sporting 1960s-styled mohair suits and porkpie hats.
As punk raged through the 1970s, reggae was often played to balance out the energy. Throwing parties at which DJs alternated between punk and reggae sets became the fashion. Second-wave ska spoke to fans of both these outsider genres.
"In some ways, reggae played the role of 'chill-out' music that you'd find in raves," Wakeling said. "The rastas and punks had also become quite friendly. They were equally banned from most clubs in England, so there was a camaraderie."
The backdrop of the second-wave ska movement was marked by especially bleak times for English youths. Unemployment was high, as were racial tensions and political unrest. Ska bands many of which were racially integrated tackled these issues head on in songs such as the Specials' "Ghost Town," the English Beats' "Stand Down Margaret" and the Selecter's "Too Much Pressure."
"A lot of these lyrics are very pertinent at the moment," Wakeling said. "The country's flirted with a depression. There's lots of unemployment and scapegoating. This was our call for unity.
"2 Tone came at the perfect time," Wakeling added. "On a Saturday night if you had black, white and Asian kids all dancing to the same music, it's kind of hard to organize a race war the following Monday."
The 2 Tone movement was very much an English phenomenon, but inspired pockets of scooter riding mods across the United States. In Sacramento, the K Street mall was a popular gathering place for mods in their military parkas and Fred Perry shirts. The former Tower Ice Cream parlor on Broadway served as the clubhouse for the Burgundy Topz, a local scooter club.
Jason Boggs, who played saxophone in the Sacramento ska band Filibuster, was part of that scene while attending C.K. McClatchy High School. These days, he's co-owner of the Shady Lady Saloon, but Boggs' love of mod culture and second-wave ska remains strong.
"I'm wearing a Fred Perry and Doc Martens right now," Boggs said. "It always sticks with you. I liked the fact that it was different than the punk rock angst I'd been listening to. Plus, I was pretty good at tying a tie and I got to dress sharp. It was fun."
Bogg's Shady Lady will serve up an aperitif for the upcoming shows on Monday, with DJs Little Dave, Rob Rossi, Mike Jones and Roger Carpio spinning classic 2 Tone ska and rocksteady tracks at "Too Much Pressure," a dance party named after the Selecter's classic album.
If the Specials' recent show in San Francisco was any indicator, the dance floor should be packed. While the band cranked through such second-wave classics as "Nite Klub" and "Dawning of a New Era," old-school skinheads in suspenders bounced in unity with mods in their neatly fitted suits.
Meanwhile, rows of Lambretta and Vespa scooters lined the sidewalk out front.
Second-wave ska has shown expected endurance for a genre that had essentially lost steam by the mid-1980s. The Selecter split up in 1981. Members of the Specials formed the new wave-y Fun Boy Three. The English Beat splintered into General Public and Fine Young Cannibals, bands that found pop-radio success.
A third wave of ska emerged in the late 1980s, including Operation Ivy, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish and the early recordings of No Doubt.
In Sacramento, a few local bands continue to carry the ska torch, including Sac Storytellers.
Many of the second-wave ska bands have been in reunion mode over the past decade, but featuring different lineups. Two versions of the Selecter are active: one featuring singer Pauline Black (the band that plays Wednesday), and another led by vocalist and guitarist Neol Davies.
Wakeling leads a version of the English Beat, which tours North America and is the sole original member of this band while vocalist Ranking Roger fronts the Beat, which tours the United Kingdom.
Second-wave ska may be showing its wrinkles, but the shows are as energetic as ever. The music's upbeat rhythms are made for moving and the songs still exhibit plenty of youthful edge, as shown by adrenaline-fueled tunes like the Selecter's "On My Radio" or the English Beat's "Mirror in the Bathroom."
"We wanted to combine the urban angst of the Velvet Underground with the uplifting backbeat of Toots and the Maytals," Wakeling said about the music. "With those elements it was easy to dance to and made you happy when you first heard it. There's a nostalgia part, but it's also a need for us to be all in the moment."
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, with Lee "Scratch" Perry
WHERE:Ace of Spades, 1417 R St., Sacramento
COST: $25 plus service fees
THE ENGLISH BEAT
WHEN: 7 p.m. next Friday; La Noche Oskura opens
WHERE: Ace of Spades, 1417 R St., Sacramento
COST: $20 plus service fees
Call The Bee's Chris Macias (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.