Taught to Be Taut

Taught to Be Taut

Ska. Go ahead, laugh if you will. Much like a current genre label of the same length (hint: It begins with e and ends with o), it quickly became a musical four-letter word as soon as it appeared on mainstream radar. But something like Darwinism applies to bands as well, especially when they’ve been lumped into a seemingly narrow category. The weakest die off, and the fittest are able to adapt to the changing climate and hang on (whither reggaeton in a decade?).

So if you’re old enough to have followed alternative forms of music about ten years ago, you can stop chuckling. The Slackers were one of the original groups of the so-called “third wave” of ska that peaked in the mid- to late-Nineties, and they’re very much alive and kicking. Their appearance at Churchill’s this Saturday supports their latest album, Peculiar, released earlier this year. It’s their ninth since their debut, Better Late than Never, issued a decade ago. That’s a long time for any “underground” band to stick together, with most of the original members, and hardly an infrequent output to boot.

The Slackers come complete with The Guy Who Just Skanks
The Slackers come complete with The Guy Who Just Skanks
Ray Raymond is a little like the Burger King commercial character who wants you to sit and eat a mushroom and Swiss
Ray Raymond is a little like the Burger King commercial character who wants you to sit and eat a mushroom and Swiss

“Yeah, it’s amazing we haven’t all killed each other by now, isn’t it?” Dave Hillyard, the group’s longtime saxophonist, said with a laugh. In fact he laughs at most questions about the band’s longevity. Because what indie music snobs growing longer in the tooth often forget is that some of them still kept the faith. And every five years or so there’s a fresh crop of teenagers. Plus the Internet in general, and now MySpace more specifically, has made local retail and snail mail nearly irrelevant in disseminating unheard tunes. (Hillyard seems a little shocked by the concept of MySpace, noting that the songs on the Slackers’ page have been played a total of 200,000 times since it was created about a year ago.) The Slackers were always different from the supposed ska bands that made it onto MTV. They left the cheesy plaid and checkerboard motifs to bouncy, bright, essentially pop groups like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or, say, Goldfinger. Instead they mined the Jamaican roots of the genre, venturing into later forms like rocksteady and early reggae, liberally adding classic soul and rock and roll attitude from America. The group has always exuded a slightly darker, more dangerous vibe than its peers: Singer and organist Vic Ruggiero croons in a smoky Brooklyn accent, recounting half-serious tales of lusting after jailbait, or inviting a married woman to “smoke a little marijuana.”

The seductive vibe, along with a dogged commitment to touring and releasing new music, has kept the Slackers on the radar. It also can’t hurt that they’re backed by Hellcat Records and its parent label, Epitaph, an essentially major label that has remained successful by staying on top of trends across a vaguely punk-oriented spectrum. (On the flip side, Moon Ska, which issued the Slackers’ debut and was the first ska-only indie label in the United States, finally called it quits near the turn of the millennium.)

As for the bandmates, the prodigious song library keeps them from dialing it in. “If you think about it,” Hillyard said, “just on the albums alone there are about 100 songs. So even if we play a really long show, we can never get through more than 25. Plus we’re always writing new material on the road. So it’s nearly impossible for us to run out of material.”

The Slackers perform at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, October 28, at Churchill’s, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. Admission is ten dollars for those eighteen and older. For more information, call 305-757-1807. Arielle Castillo


No More Gender-Editing

Justin Timberlake may have coined the catchphrase “I’m bringing sexy back,” but it’s obvious that singer-songwriter Ray Raymond is the inspiration for that soon-to-be cliché. This past October 15, Raymond was the star attraction as both MC and entertainer at “Singing Their Hearts Out,” a benefit concert for SoBap (South Beach Aids Project) held at Score on Lincoln Road.

Raymond opened the show, declaring, “No more gender-editing in my songwriting!” Under that banner, he wove a small collection of personal, witty, sexy, and idiosyncratic ballads around the other performers’ standard karaoke fare. (Sidebar: The only thing that separated your embarrassingly drunk uncle, unevenly belting out tunes along with Cher’s vocals, from these people is the fact that they could actually sing.)

Under the track stylings of DJ Mike Perez, guest vocalists Joanna Gardner, Miami native Nicole Henry, and Broadway surplus David Kingery offered miniconcerts of old favorites sprinkled among Raymond’s otherworldly songs. Gardner, wearing Janet Jackson hair and a lovely black Joan Collins gown, commanded the mostly gay crowd via her ear-awakening versions of “At Last” and “The Greatest Love of All.” Kingery hinted at Tin Pan Alley with his fast-paced, cartoonish, finger-pointing banter in “Making Love Alone” and “Schadenfreude.” Notwithstanding, it was Henry who bootiliciously stole the show. Henry gave mouth-to-mouth to Stephanie Mills’s “Home” and recalled the haunting talent of Whitney Houston with Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”

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