The fourth edition of the recurrent Ska is Dead tour lands at Culture Room on Thursday with a bill straight out of 1997. Ska has been reviled and declared dead for about the last 30 years, but it seems its horn-heavy effervescence just can't be dampened. The genre itself pre-dates reggae, coming out of Jamaica in the early '60s and incubating the careers of later stars.
A Primer on the '90s Survivors at the Ska is Dead Tour, Thursday at Culture Room
Outside of the island, though, its flickers in the mainstream have, to be honest, 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 like the Specials and Madness. Then, in the mid-'90s in 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 founded 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, as well as a Two-Tone-spirited message of unity.
The Chicago-based Deal's Gone Bad was, like the Toasters, one of the '90s acts closest to so-called "traditional" ska, hewing most closely to the original Jamaican sound. Their tempos were relatively slowed down and the band featured a strong soul influence, as well. While they never released anything for Moon in the'90s, in recent years they signed to Bucket's new label, Megalith.
While the Toasters and Deal's Gone Bad eschewed distortion on the guitars, though, the same can't be said of two of the other bands who share the bill. Mustard Plug, a many-membered act from Grand Rapids, Michigan, specialized in goofy, if sweet anthems that often relied on punk-style choruses.
Voodoo Glow Skulls, too, often sounded essentially like a Southern California-style punk band with horns.
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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 may be time for some new material from the performers.
The Ska is Dead IV Tour. With the Toasters, Mustard Plug, Voodoo Glow Skulls, and Deal's Gone Bad. Thursday, November 19. Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., tickets cost $14.99. 954-564-1074; cultureroom.net