By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
The fourth edition of the Ska Is Dead tour lands at Culture Room this Thursday with a bill straight out of 1997. Ska has been reviled and declared dead for about the past 30 years, but it seems its horn-heavy effervescence cannot be dampened. The genre predates reggae, coming out of Jamaica in the early '60s and incubating the careers of later stars.
Outside the island, though, its flickers in the mainstream have come through white punk kids' appropriation of the genre's rhythms into new hybrids. In the late '70s and early '80s, there was the Two-Tone movement in England, concurrent with punk, which pushed for racial unity and gave the world eventual pop stars such as the Specials and Madness. Then, in mid-'90s America, came a similar ska rediscovery, this time without the political platform but again musically hybridized.
The leaders of this so-called third wave of ska were undoubtedly the Toasters, whose founder, Rob "Bucket" Hingley, also started the ultimate American all-ska record label, Moon Ska. Moon put out all the important records of the mid-'90s and even maintained a healthy retail store in Manhattan's East Village before finally shuttering earlier this decade. But Bucket and his band prevail, with a clean, bright sound mostly uncluttered by punk and delivering a Two-Tone-spirited message of unity.
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The Chicago-based Deal's Gone Bad was, like the Toasters, among the '90s acts that hewed closely to so-called traditional ska. The tempos were relatively slowed down, and the band featured a strong soul influence. They never released anything for Moon in the '90s, but in recent years they signed to Bucket's new label, Megalith.
Though the Toasters and Deal's Gone Bad eschewed distortion on the guitars, the same can't be said of two of the other bands that share the bill. Mustard Plug, a multi-member act from Grand Rapids, Michigan, specialized in goofy but sweet anthems that often relied on punk-style choruses. Voodoo Glow Skulls also often sounded like a Southern California-style punk band with horns.
In a recurring theme, none of these bands has released a new studio album since 2007. If this tour is trying to prove that ska is something other than dead, it might be time for some new material from the performers.