November 20, 2009 | 9:00am
The Ska Is Dead Tour
With Deal's Gone Bad, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Mustard Plug, and the Toasters
Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Better Than: Remembering the misled late-'90s mainstream notion of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones supposedly epitomizing ska.
In 2009, ska sure isn't the healthiest genre of underground music. But it sure ain't dead, either -- or if it is, the several hundred people packed into Culture Room last night missed the memo. It was the most crowded I've seen the venue in a while -- much more crowded than for most of the "hipper" indie rock and art-metal shows I've attended there recently. And a night I was worried would be bittersweet and slightly sad was the exact opposite: a boisterous, celebratory jam with a surprisingly wide age spread.
While there were plenty of us in our mid-'20s, we certainly weren't the majority; there were older people, too, as well as a ton of younger teenagers. Even a couple of children, literally -- a pair of boys about 10 and 12 in Aquabats shirts who may have been escorted, possibly, by older teens, but didn't have any hipster parents in sight. (Credit, maybe, Yo Gabba Gabba! for the influence?)
The most interesting thing about this is, while the Internet makes music discovery easier, there's no live ska, really, to be had for local teens. There are pretty much no bands playing it in South Florida, and while the genre once comprised about half of the Warped Tour lineup, it's now represented by maybe one or two bands a year. In any event it was cheering to see a crowd so clearly respectful of, and enthusiastic to hear, material from across these long-running bands' careers.
Unfortunately I missed the opening set by Deal's Gone Bad
, but did arrive in time to catch SoCal survivors Voodoo Glow Skulls
. The band has essentially been a skate-punk band with horns, and as such blends in the best to the current musical landscape; its slight Latin flair probably helps locally too. They got a circle-skanking pit in the crowd from the get-go, and it kepts going throughout. And songs like "El Coo Cool" sounded as ridiculously frenetic today as they did in the days of the old Epitaph Records Punk-O-Rama compilations.
Headliners the Toasters
provided a more traditional-style, less distorted counterpoint to the evening. The band's current lineup features probably the greatest age spectrum; frontman/guitarist Rob "Bucket" Hingley is definitely old enough to be the father the band's current trombonist. Bucket is also the only current remaining member, but that's okay because they're all his songs, anyways. He wisely ran through most of the band's upbeat, uptempo greatest hits, like "I'm Running Right Through the World" and "Two Tone Army," as well as one of the best love songs ever of the genre, "Thrill Me Up."
The real stars of the evening, though, were the penultimate band, Mustard Plug
. Despite the silly name, their longevity impresses, and they delivered perhaps the most energetic and most well-received set of the evening. Vocalist Dave Kirchgessner and guitarist Colin Clive seem to have barely physically aged, and their vocal call-and-response is still sweetly melodic over all that horn-laden racket.
I could have done without live renditions of the band's ska-ified covers of Fugazi and even the Verve Pipe, but old jams like "Go," "You," "Mr. Smiley," and "Beer (Song)" still went down smooth like pale ale. And when Kirchgessner introduced a new song, "Ai Yi Yi," by saying the crowd would be singing along to it by the tune's end, well, dammit, he was right.
Personal Bias: This certainly won't earn me any hipster points, but I was definitely a ska aficionado in the '90s (more specifically and perhaps nerdily, a "traditional ska" purist). From about '97 to '99 a friend and I published a photocopied zine devoted to the genre.
Random Detail: People really enjoyed seeing their faces, sports game-style, on a crowd cam projected onto the screen above the stage.
By the Way:
As they often do, the security guards at Culture Room were acting like overzealous goons. There is possibly no crowd less threatening than a ska crowd. Yet a chubby bald gorilla repeatedly manhandled a bunch of kids, literally, half his size for dancing too vigorously close to the stage, or making their way onto the stage. Between bands, I saw him yell at a couple near me for daring to sit down on that step-like thing leading from the inside bar to the main dance floor. Next time take a chill pill, King Kong.
See? Lots of people came out. Maybe it's a sign.
photo by Ian Witlen