I hadn’t gone to a concert for a long time, so I felt I was due. The Highline was hosting another ska festival, which I pretty much always love, so off I went. I always find it hilarious that the cover charge is $7, the club holds maybe a couple of hundred people, there are six bands, and the average ska band has about eight members. No one is getting rich tonight!
I missed the first act and came in when Curtis Irie was playing. I had some hopes because Irie (the word) is Jamaican patois after all, but no, it was a one white guy playing an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. He clearly is a talented musician, capably playing both melody and bass lines simultaneously on the guitar (maybe that’s easy to do, but it always blows my mind when someone does it). However, despite his last name, he is way more Bob Dylan than he is Bob Marley. Some of his songs had ska like influences, but it was pretty folk and in at least one song, was outright blues. A good musician, but probably did not belong on the bill.
Next up was Heavy City. This was much more what I expected. There were eight people on stage (two guitars, one bass, two saxes, a drummer, and a female lead singer). With that many people, the members were barely able to move on the stage.
They played much more traditional ska music. They certainly had a signature sound. That’s basically a polite way of saying that their original compositions actually all kind of sounded alike. Where they got creative, interesting enough, was in their covers. They did a cover of an Ike and Tina song and an old Spinners song that was interesting when interpreted within the prism of their own sound.
Finally, they managed to step upon a pet peeve of mine. One song featured a flute. There is just no place for a flute in any rock oriented band, especially one that plays several other loud instruments. In the ska context, a flute just sounds like some little wispy voice trying to make itself heard against an ocean roar. Yes, I know about Jethro Tull, but no more flute!
The other band that I listened to was Natalie Wouldn’t. This was another band with a very traditional ska lineup (Trumpet, trombone, two saxes, a drummer, a bass, and two guitars). This group was clearly heads and shoulders tighter than the previous two acts. This was in your face, fun, get up and start skanking kind of music. And people did. For really the first time that night, the dance floor was shaking and I saw the sheer joy that ska inspires.
Interestingly enough, except for the female lead, every other person on stage for the three bands that I saw were white males. A huge percentage of them were either white males in hats or bald white males. It seemed like the average age of the band members was 35 to 45, which might make sense if you think of third wave ska as cresting in the mid 90’s. These are middle aged men with day jobs that are reliving the favorite music of their young adulthood.
Regardless, as always, I left the concert smiling. No one is allowed to be down at a ska concert!