LIVE REVIEW: Madness in Boston, MA (05.29.24)

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LIVE REVIEW: Madness in Boston, MA (05.29.24)

What can you say about quintessential OG ska and pop band Madness? Madness played MGM Music Hall on Wednesday May 29 as part of their recent C’est La Vie in America tour which started on the West Coast with Seattle, Oakland and Los Angeles and ended up in New York. Madness hadn’t toured the United States in 40 years. The show started off with a bang— the Star Wars theme blared and then they came out and played a fervent, supercharged “One Step Beyond” to an eager, enthusiastic crowd.

In a friend’s music Messenger group someone said they wouldn’t go because they didn’t know that many Madness songs. I commented that you don’t need to know that many songs— it’s a vibe. That was evident Wednesday night. The music is mostly upbeat and very danceable and it was an overall fun time for the mostly GenX and Boomer II crowd. It was impossible not to enjoy yourself. And if you only knew a few of the hits, it’s okay, they perfectly curated the setlist with mostly older songs and a few new ones so as not to lose the crowd’s attention.

Nattily dressed in suits and bowler hats, the band members performed with plenty of energy and vigor. They sounded brilliant. Nothing off-key, no bad notes. Consummate professionals in sync onstage for an entertaining show. Graham “Suggs” McPherson sings like he speaks. I like hearing a twinge of accent.

Madness formed in 1976 and enjoyed massive popularity and success in the 80s. Ska is a precursor to reggae, infusing Caribbean folk music and calypso with American rhythm and blues and jazz. They’ve released 13 studio albums. The most recent album Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie hit #1 in England. Although they’ve had 16 singles reach the UK top ten (and one song, “Our House” charting at 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100), this is their first time with a #1 studio album. “We beat Taylor Swift,” Suggs enthused. The title track is a catchy, sardonic, doom and gloom number about 9 to 5 gigs with a catchy, swaying beat. Suggs said he wrote low key ‘If I Go Mad’ during lockdown, wondering if he would actually go mad. The other new song Madness played during Wednesday’s set was the cinematic, super cool ‘Run for Your Life’—grooving with horn and spoken lines interspersed with low singing chorus. By the end many were singing along.

“Wings of the Dove” soared with its happy beats. “Our House” was pitch-perfect and superb. I thoroughly enjoyed the darker elements on “Mr. Apples” —a song about a man leading a double-life—it sounded like Wonderstuff, might be the singing tone and banging keyboard parts. “House of Fun” won over the crowd with its cool funhouse musical elements. At one point, Suggs found a young boy in front of the stage and asked his name (Joseph) and if he did well in school. Suggs said: “the biggest regret of my life is that I didn’t get an education.” The catchy school days song “Baggy Trousers” was all fun with electric speed.

Before ending the set with a spectacular “It Must Be Love,” Suggs said: “We don’t take this business for granted and we’d like to leave you with a simple sentiment.” The encore included a slower “Madness” and “Night Boat to Cairo.”

Featured image by Matt Lambert

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