The Dangermen AKA Madness - Dublin Castle, Camden
It's more like a swimming pool in the Dublin Castle than a gig. Everyone is slippery with sweat and jumping up and down in time to the music and that's before Madness have even taken to the stage in this matchbox of a venue. It's explosive; a cheer of recognition greets each song as The Clash, PIL and the Pistols are played over the PA. For one night only, its 1979 again, and the nutty boys of SKA are about to take the stage. Tonight is a celebration, it's their 25th anniversary year and they've an album due out in the summer and a few festival dates lined up. What better way to prepare than to play four nights in a tiny pub?
It's something of a shock to see a band of this stature playing in a corner, but suddenly, there they are, walking through the crowd like prize fighters come to reclaim their title. There's no backstage area here, as such, and so the packed crowd parts like the Red Sea as the clamber their way through, and from then on, it's, well, utter madness. Strip away the comedy videos, the awful musical and all the baggage they've accumulated over the years, and you are left with the reality that, at its core, Madness are no less than a top notch Ska band, tight, loud and still packing a mighty punch.
The set list might well disappoint many. There's no Baggy Trousers or Welcome to the House of Fun or any of that other stuff that came later. What you get is mainly a set of covers, all done with that unique Ska twist. They play an absolutely storming version of Hanging on the Telephone and a jumping version of (Poor me) Israelites. There is some of the Madness of old, and the place just explodes when the dirty sax riffs of One Step Beyond comes bursting through the PA. Night Boat to Cairo enjoys a similarly incendiary reception. This is one of the few gigs where everyone in the crowd is laughing at the wonderful absurdness of it all; here we are in 2004, jumping along with songs that are decades old as though were hearing them for the first time. Suggs can still cut it with the best of them, even though he is a granddad, and how weird is that thought?
Barely an hour after it starts, it's all over. Leaving with the old chestnut of Madness that’s never sounded more apt considering the state of most of the audience by now. It's just as well they left when they did, or there'd have been mass dehydration everywhere. Madness will be playing the Move festival later in the year, and on the strength of this performance, they've lost not an ounce of their talent, and will be well worth checking out.