Like the Two-Tone movement itself, Live from Planet Ska is a wild ride, bouncing all over the place, from band to band, city to city, and across the decades. There's no cohesion here, no sense of chronology, no respect for time or place. It's a bit like being blindfolded, turned around till one's dizzy, then pushed through a time machine. The album's appended title, The Best of British Ska Live, is a bit misleading to say the least. How can it be the best without Madness or the English Beat (although listeners do get the Special Beat, the Specials, the Selecter, and Bad Manners)? The sound is variable, with the poor Specials coming off as particularly reedy and at times downright weedy, not a reflection of their 1979 Birmingham show, but of the poor quality of the recording. Their four numbers are the only ones from ska's heyday; the rest all come from the early '90s. The Selecter tracks are culled from a particularly vibrant show, the band still sounds great, and much of its early magic remains intact here. The Special Beat's songs were recorded the following year, like the Selecter at a hometown gig in Coventry. The crowd is exuberant, the band is equally enthusiastic, and while the sound may be a bit muddy, there's no escaping the joie de vivre of the night. But it's Bad Manners that steals the show. Recorded in 1992 at a show in Stockholm, Sweden, their tracks are phenomenal, boasting a big, fat sound and a fabulous mix. For sheer quality of sound, everything else here pales in comparison; not that it was a fair fight, since Manners was recording the set for a live album. There's definitely better live material available, but only on import, so with that in mind, this is still a fun ride -- from the earliest days through re-formations and reorganizations, ska lives on.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene