Madness hit the Bayou Friday night. But in spite of its name, the British sextet was more lighthearted and ziny than disturbed or disturbing. The band's popularity (they are among the leaders of the ska revival in England) suggests that the ideological and stylistic intensity of punk may be giving way there to musical styles easier to dance and drink to.
Everything Madness played was grounded in ska and rocksteady, two Jamaican pop styles predating reggae. Madness' sound, featuring an organ and a saxophone, drew heavily on American rhythm and blues and on the syncopated rhythms of Jamaica to create a jumpy party music theat contrasts sharply with the brooding hypnotic quality of reggae.
The band isn't just reviving ska, however; their show was the imaginative work of six performers who have as much of the British music hall in them as of Jamaica. Delivered in lead singer Sugg's thick Cockney accent a ditty like "In the Middle of the Night," the tale of a late-night panty thief, would make Benny Hill envious.
A seventh member of the band, Chas Smash, served as the party host, chanting into the mike, clowning and leading Madness in their charmingly oddball routines. Whatever the band lacks in musical intrigue, they make up for with attitude. They said let's have fun and the audience had fun.