Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Barbicide "Fresh Cuts" and The Twilights* "Hear What I Say"


Editor's note: Back over the summer, I featured these bands (along with the mighty Beat Brigade) at my occasional Electric Avenue ska night at Characters in midtown Manhattan--and I'm a big fan of both acts.

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Barbicide, for those of you who've never stepped foot in a traditional barber shop, is the blue disinfectant, fungicide, and virucide that barbers dip combs, scissors, and razors into to kill off fungi and all sorts of nasty viruses. But Barbicide is also the name of a fantastic, NYC-based, modern/third-wave ska band (featuring two former members of Mephiskapheles, Brendog Tween on guitar and vocals, Mikal Reich on drums, plus Jerica Rosenblum (Hard Times, Scofflaws, Defactos) on keys and vocals, and Irena Jaroszewska on bass and backing vox) that has just released their dynamite debut EP, Fresh Cuts (digital, Pass the Virgin Music, 2019). It wouldn't be too far afield to compare Barbicide's sound and vibe with the kind of ridiculously catchy songs Reich and Tween wrote for Meph's The DEMOn tape and God Bless Satan (think "Eskamoes" "Doomsday," and "Saba"), but this is by no means a retread--yes, their music is immediately accessible, but it's wonderfully unique and bent.

Fresh Cuts is an EP of protest songs--three of them essentially anti-love along with a more traditional anti-war track--from musicians experienced enough to have seen some dreams dashed and life mow them down a few times, but they're stubborn bastards; beaten up, battle-scarred, and all the wiser/wise ass/cynical for it (Gen Xers are, after all, at the helm here). The frenetically upbeat (check out those amazing "hey-hey-hey's"!) lead track "Unlove You" is about actively extracting oneself emotionally from a relationship gone bad ages ago ("Well, it's been a long time since you broke my heart/But it ain't been long since I cried/And it feels so good getting over you/Like Lazarus when he undied"); here, the opposite of to love is to unlove. This is followed by a film noir-ish portrayal of a not-exactly-healthy-for-you girlfriend with "Jezebel" (the second Biblical reference on the EP; she, of course, was the pagan, Baal or Satan/demon-worshipping, Christian-corrupting, sexually promiscuous temptress; you can take the musician out of the satanic ska band, but can't take the satanic ska out of the musician...), but at least the singer knows the deal: "Jezebel, you're my gallows/Jezebel, you're my femme fatale/You came from somewhere deep and dark/A creature from down below/Jezebel, you're my gal." "I Don't Remember" is the back and forth tale of a marriage gone south. The wife (Rosenblum) recounts the good and bad ("Do you recall we had ten kids/Ten piles of laundry all covered in skids/Do you recall all the money spent/Have a stack of bills, not one red cent"); while the husband (Tween) mostly doesn't have a memory of anything, but finally fesses up that he remembered that he "had it all" before he lost himself in booze. It's tragically funny and all-out brutal.

Barbicide's EP bows out with a brilliant, heartfelt cover of P.F. Sloan's "Eve of Destruction" (covered most famously by the likes of The Turtles and Barry McGuire), which is an apocalyptic, anti-war, anti-nuke, and anti-racist protest track from the 1960s that captures all of America's contradictions in a nutshell--and is still incredibly relevant today. Some of the lyrics are worth quoting here: "Think of all the hate there is in Red China/Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama/You may leave here for four days in space/But when you return, it's the same old place/The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace/You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace/Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace/And you tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend/How you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction." (Even this song has cutting Biblical references about Christian hypocrisy: "You're old enough to kill, but not for voting/You don't believe in war, what's that gun you're toting?/And even the Jordan river has bodies floating...") Barbicide's Fresh Cuts is an immensely good EP--and highly recommended!

+ + + +

If you're craving the sweet, late-'60 sounds of rocksteady (with lots of echo effects rolled in), you'll find The Twilights*' Hear What I Say (CD/digital, self-released, 2018) most satisfying. This 10-track album features The Twilights' really splendid, sing-along original cuts standing tall and proud alongside their marvelous takes on several rocksteady and roots reggae classics--notably Delroy Wilson's evergreen "Dancing Mood," Ken Boothe's version of Edward Heyman and Victor Young's pop standard "When I Fall in Love" (and its wild dub version, "When I Fall in Dub"!), and The Heptones' "Hypocrite." (The band, from Easton, PA, is Danny Kru Schurtman on lead vocals and melodica, Scott DeDecker on keys, Rebecca Pagliarulo on guitar and vocals, Edmond Cho on bass, guitar, and vox, and David Best on drums.)

Most of The Twilights*' own material is concerned with one's psychological mood--particularly the desire to achieve some semblance of emotional equilibrium. The musically bright, sing-song-y "Rainy Day" (which features an unexpectedly fantastic, effects-filled bridge) has lyrics that express longing for an end to episodes of depression ("In sad times, I have prayed for rain...Hide in corners/To feel gray...For the last time, let me shine again/Brighter than your mighty sun...It's going to be a rainy day/'Cause this shit's gotta change!'). The opening chords of "Gold" quote Freddie McKay's "Picture on the Wall," but then shift to a brisk, almost jaunty riddim reflecting the determination of the chorus: "Gold is in my eyes/Stars are in my head/I push it, I push it/I push until I'm dead"; but then doubt and insecurity seep in during the verses: "Things are not the way I've always dreamed/Feel away, cast away at sea/Pushing hard, 'cause that's how I still believe/People made boring by machines...Waking thoughts, you're still in my dreams/Everything's exactly what it seems...Don't go, don't go/Hold me, hold tight!" I particularly like the claustrophobic and unsettling "Panic Attack" ("Panic attack, deception's over me/Panic attack, it's something, can't you see?/No one takes it seriously...") with its choice use of off-kilter toy piano here. The album is capped off with a fierce, live, dubby version of Lee Perry and Max Romeo's "Chase the Devil" (one of the greatest songs ever written) that is simply epic! Keep your eye on this band!

+ + + +

Friday, September 27, 2019

Duff Gig Review: UB40 at Sony Hall (9/26/19)

UB40 in action at Sony Hall
(Review by Steve Shafer)

This was my first time at Sony Hall, an upscale supper club-type ballroom in the basement of the Paramount Hotel, just off Times Square. Oddly, given the violent times we live in, my friends and I just walked right in and they scanned our tickets--no one patted us down at the door, made us empty our pockets and go through a metal detector, or looked in my friend's bulging backpack (I'd been to two other concerts in the previous week at Webster Hall and Central Park SummerStage, and was as thoroughly screened as if I was boarding an airplane). Similarly, the close to sold-out UB40 crowd wasn't quite what I had expected (and gave off a weird energy), comprised much more of corporate/finance-y and ex-frat boy types than the WLIR/new wave and reggae fans that I'd see at their concerts back in the day (I didn't recognize my GenX peers like I had at the B-52s/OMD/Berlin show I caught a few days ago in Central Park). And this essentially illustrates UB40's art-versus-commerce tension that's been a sticky component of their career and relationship with their fan base (it's particularly pronounced here in America), ever since the extraordinary success of their Labor of Love album in 1983. (Early in the show, there was some obnoxious guy yelling at Robin Campbell to play "Red Red Wine"; Robin replied that they were obviously going to play it toward end of night--and when they did, hundreds of hands holding cell phones shot up in the audience to record the song.)

Like many of their splintered 2 Tone-era peers, there are, of course, two versions of UB40 roaming the planet. This iteration--with original members Robin Campbell (co-vocals/guitar), Jimmy Brown (drums), Earl Falconer (bass/keyboards/vocals), and Norman Hassan (percussion/vocals), augmented by long-time members Duncan Campbell (vocals), Martin Meredith (saxophone), Laurence Parry (trumpet) and Tony Mullings (keyboards); original saxophonist Brian Travers recently was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing treatment, so missed this tour--is the less poppy one, but they still split their set pretty evenly between their terrific original songs and their many hit (and bill-paying) pop/reggae covers. As this was their 40th anniversary tour (I had just been to The Selecter's 40th anniversary show earlier this month--great things were going on in 1979, right?), UB40 performed songs from key early albums (all of them notably political in nature: "Tyler" and "King" from their 1980 debut Signing Off; and the brilliant anti-apartheid track "Sing Our Own Song" from 1986's Rat in the Kitchen), as well as several new songs ("The Keeper," "Broken Man," Midnight Lover," "You Haven't Called," and "All We Do Is Cry") from their superb For the Many album (which we reviewed back in April), and a healthy number of their famous covers (including "Cherry Oh Baby," "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Baby," "Midnight Rider," "Kingston Town, "(I Can't Help) Falling in Love with You"--and for some reason I was very pleasantly surprised to hear The Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad").

UB40 served up a thoroughly enjoyable, well-honed performance that gave the people exactly what they wanted (at the expense of offering thrills of the unexpected). What I'd give to see them put aside their more commercial considerations and play a show solely featuring their own ace material (with tracks like "One in Ten," "Don't Let It Pass You By," "If It Happens Again," "Rat in the Kitchen," "Looking Down at My Reflection," "Don't Blame Me," "Who You Fighting For?," "Dance Until the Morning Light," "Gravy Train," "Bulldozer," "I'm Alright Jack")--the economics of it all be damned! I want to be wowed again.

+ + + +

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Uncut's "The Ultimate Genre Guide: 2 Tone"

(By Steve Shafer)

Apart from the absolutely fantastic Selecter/Rhoda Dakar show that I caught recently here in NYC (read my review), I've been pretty disappointed at the general lack of 2 Tone 40th anniversary events, releases, etc.--and I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this way (the half-speed remastered, billionth re-issue of The Specials' debut LP, along with the box set of re-issued 2 Tone 45s that most die-hard fans already have collected over the years are okay for newbies, but pretty thin gruel for anyone else). And, yes, we get it--a whole lot of people in these bands are still mad at each other for transgressions of varying degrees committed over the years and more than happy to continue to take public swipes at each other in the press. Perhaps it is too much to expect our musical heroes--who promoted things like tolerance, love, and unity back in the day--not to have clay feet like the rest of humanity. But in many ways, this anniversary isn't really about the 2 Tone bands and label, but the multitude of fans worldwide for whom this music is still incredibly relevant and treasured. The 2 Tone faithful would have been so happy and grateful if everyone still standing (RIP Rico, Brad, and Roger) could have temporarily put aside their differences, issued some previously unreleased music from the vaults, and played some reunion concerts in key cities around the world. You know, put some effort into it. They owe this to the fans.

+ + + +

One 2 Tone 40th anniversary-related release that is definitely deserving of fans' attention is Uncut's "The Ultimate Genre Guide: 2 Tone," which contains newly written/considered overviews of each band's career (though I take enormous issue with John Lewis' trashing of The Beat's Wha'ppen?, which is one of my favorite albums of all time), as well as reprints of late '70s/early '80s pieces and interviews with all the bands from Melody Maker and NME (which are worth the price of admission in themselves!), and new articles like "The Ska Roots of 2 Tone" and "The Best 40 Ska Singles." In short, this magazine is a 2 Tone 40th anniversary souvenir book of sorts--and something that I'll be keeping on the bookshelf to refer to over time, along with all of my other ska and reggae books.

+ + + +

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Fall 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #9

Laurel Aitken
Thursday, September 26, 2019, doors @ 6:00 pm/show @ 8:00 pm

UB40 (Robin Campbell, Brian Travers, Jimmy Brown, Earl Falconer and Norman Hassan, Duncan Campbell, Martin Meredith, Lawrence Parry and Tony Mullings)

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
Tickets: $39.50 in advance/$45 day of show
All ages

+ + + +

Saturday, September 28, 2019 @ 8:30 pm

Barbicide, On Dope

An Beal Bocht Cafe
443 West 238th Street
Bronx, NY

+ + + +

Saturday, September 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla 4th Anniversary Party w/The Ladrones, Brunt of It, Raise the Kicks, The Screw-Ups, The Oneness, plus DJ Gorilla

Desmond's Tavern
433 Park Avenue South
New York, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Five Iron Frenzy, Mustard Plug, Mephiskapheles

Gramercy Theatre
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$26.50 in advance/$30 day of show
16+

+ + + +

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
$35

+ + + +

Saturday, November 16, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla presents: Sgt. Scagnetti, Hans Gruber and the Die Hards, Disposable, SuptropicoMilitia HeavySound, International Override

Desmond's Tavern
433 Park Avenue South
New York, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Friday, November 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville presents The Copacetics, The Penniless Loafers, Smittix, plus DJ Ryan Midnight

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
New York, NY
No cover/21+ (but bring $ for tip bucket for bands)

+ + + +

Friday, December 20, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Slackers

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$22/18+

+ + + +

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Seattle-ites "The Thing" EP

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The Seattle-ites' six-track debut EP, The Thing (10" vinyl/digital, Ready to Launch Records, 2019), showcases the band's superb songwriting and musicianship, as well as their mastery of the jazz-big band-ska hybrid pioneered by the magnificent Skatalites (they cover Tommy McCook's end of the party, slow-dancer "Starry Night," which is a version of Glenn Miller's arrangement of one of the movements in Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6 in B minor") and all of the associated musicians in their orbit (like Lynn Taitt and Ernest Ranglin). So, it comes as no surprise that members of The Seattle-ites come from Seattle area trad ska acts (like The Georgetown Orbits) and classical groups (such as The Seattle Symphony!)--and each track provides ample solo opportunities for these musicians to show off their considerable chops.

The mysterious title track--named for the 1951 sci-fi monster movie or the VW jeep-like car?--immediately builds tension with a series of percussive minor chords (that are somehow reminiscent of the opening brass riffs in the 1960s British TV show "The Avengers") before releasing some it with the introduction of the song's melody that's improvised upon and returned to for the rest of the track. Both the jaunty "Sidewinder" and brisk-paced "Freedom Ska Dance" (with its fantastically crazy, almost dissonant jazz horn sequences) are dead-ringers for Skatalites originals and sure to pack the dance floor when performed live or heard via sound system. The wonderful and wittily titled "Prado for P'rez" is heavy on the mambo, while "Ska-la-Mode" is a sublime slice of vintage ska that could have been off The Scofflaws' brilliant debut. The Seattle-ites clearly invested a lot of time, creativity, care, and love in The Thing and you, the listener, receive so much in return. This EP is a true thing of beauty.

+ + + +

Friday, September 13, 2019

Duff Gig Review: The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar at The Gramercy Theatre (9/11/19)

The Selecter with Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson
(Review by Steve Shafer)

With the clock quickly running out on 2 Tone's 40th anniversary year--coupled with a general dearth of related events in the USA (The Specials' Encore tour doesn't really count)--it was phenomenal to have the opportunity to catch The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar (of The Bodysnatchers and The Special AKA), both of whom put on extraordinary performances that celebrated and honored their own--and 2 Tone's--legacy, while reminding us why they and their music are still powerfully relevant all these years later. I've caught The Selecter during their two previous visits to New York City (on 9/20/2013 and 10/6/16, which I reviewed here) and have never been disappointed; they give their all, always impressing and entertaining the crowd (this evening, I danced with my friends and members of Barbicide and The Twilights the entire time). And it was an historic night--Rhoda Dakar hasn't played Gotham since 1981!

In lieu of an opening act (more on that later), Rhoda Dakar served as house DJ, spinning a great mix of old school ska and reggae that had the fans openly grooving while maintaining their desired spots down front. The Selecter then took the stage to a recording of "The Selecter" and served up a positively stellar set! Pauline Black and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson were thoroughly engaging and the rest of the band (Winston Marche on drums, "Tommy"-era Oliver Reed look-alike John Robertson on guitar, Andrew Pearson on bass, Lee Horsley on organ, and Neil Pyzer-Skeete on tenor sax) were in top form. They played the expected hits and more their 2 Tone days, including "Three Minute Hero," "On My Radio," "Out on the Streets," "Murder," "Missing Words," "Danger," "Black and Blue," "The Whisper," "Train to Skaville," "Carry Go Bring Come," and Gaps' spotlight at the mic (and fave of mine), "(Who Likes) Facing Situations."

Rhoda Dakar with The Selecter
One notable portion of The Selecter's show was sharply political, beginning with their cover of The Pioneers "Time Hard" ("Everyday, things are getting worse"), which Black aimed at both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump in her intro; followed by "Frontline," their call to action/engagement for people who think that posts on social media can address inequity and bring about societal change ("My mind is full/my heart is empty/It's hard to live/In a world of plenty/The more I see/The less I feel/You sell me dreams/But they're not real..I need to believe/In something more/Than I wanna stay free"--which also references the police killing of Eric Garner: "I saw a man/Punched off his feet...He shouted out/'Now, I can't breathe!'"--from their Daylight album, reviewed by me here). They then moved on to the devastating "Breakdown," their "Ghost Town" of sorts for the 21st century from Subculture (reviewed here), which is about how societal and government institutional dysfunction/failure to address systemic racism and poverty leads to the extrajudicial police killings of unarmed black people (the band bowed their heads as a short tape was played listing some of the names of the black boys, men, and women unjustly killed by the police in the UK and USA)--and finished with their haunting anti-gun/anti-revenge/anti-violence song, "Celebrate the Bullet" ("Put your finger on the trigger/But you don't have to pull it/'Cos you know it won't bring them/Back to you"). The cumulative effect of this sequence of tracks was stunning.

After performing a blistering rendition of "On My Radio" (Pauline commented that back in the day only Rodney Bingenheimer at KROQ played ska on the radio in America--though WLIR showed them lots of love in the NYC area, too!), Pauline and Gaps left the stage for the band to back Rhoda Dakar for her two hits with The Bodysnatchers, "Let's Do Rock Steady" and the gender-parity asserting "Ruder Than You" (co-written by the band with Gaz Mayall). Dakar was in fantastic voice and it was thrilling to (finally!) see and hear the other--and essential--2 Tone female singer live in person. My only complaint would be that I would have loved to have heard a few more songs from her (several years ago, Dakar recorded an album of Bodysnatchers tracks, and has released a few EPs of new material, all very highly recommended).

Pauline and Gaps then returned to the stage with Rhoda and all three sang a raucous version of "Too Much Pressure, which incorporated Toots and the Maytals "Pressure Drop."

Rhoda Dakar with members of the FDNY.
Since they were playing in New York City on the anniversary of 9/11, The Selecter had arranged for union members of the FDNY to come on stage, where Dakar read a message of support, thanks, and solidarity from their firefighting colleagues in London. The night concluded with a spirited rendition of Prince Buster's "Madness." On a day commemorating the missing among us, left unspoken--given the superseding and momentous significance of this date--was the 2 Tone musician heartbreakingly absent from this tour: Ranking Roger (whose permutation of The Beat had toured with The Selecter in the UK last year and was scheduled to visit America, had his cancer not intervened; Roger very much had hoped to participate in 2 Tone 40th anniversary events like this). A purloined Selecter set list indicates that on some dates of this tour, the band is playing "Can't Get Used to Losing You" in his memory.

+ + + +

Afterward, at the merch table, where Pauline, Gaps, and Rhoda are more than happy to chat, sign things, and pose for pictures with fans, I overheard Rhoda responding to compliment on her singing on The Special AKA's In the Studio by telling a fan that to this day she's never listened to that record (still a shock to hear, even though I know she's stated in the past that the recording of that album was such a torturous, drawn-out process that she could never bear hearing it; her work on In the Studio is absolutely fantastic and completely essential to its success--hopefully someday she can find a way to put that all aside and focus on the brilliance of the music she helped create).

The Duff Guide with the wonderful Rhoda Dakar
When I went to buy a Selecter shirt (I bought a Bodysnatchers one from Rhoda, too), Pauline gave me the side-eye and commented on my bootleg 2 Tone tour t-shirt (see picture at right)--though in all fairness the rampant, out-of-control bootlegging of all things 2 Tone back in '79/'80 certainly denied all involved of rightfully deserved income and was one of the reasons The Selecter left 2 Tone after their first LP (I bashfully apologized and pointed out how I was in the act of buying an official Selecter shirt from her!). I also managed to squeeze in a short conversation with Gaps, who's always really lovely to talk with.

If the Selecter/Rhoda Dakar 40th Anniversary Tour comes anywhere near you (dates below), do not miss them (also, bring some extra bucks to buy some merch, as it really helps to make tours like this one financially feasible--musicians need to earn a living, too; also note that The Selecter has vinyl copies of their two most recent albums with them for sale, if you don't already have them).

+ + + +

The Selecter/Rhoda Dakar 40th Anniversary Tour US Dates

9/12/19: Sommerville, MA - Once Ballroom
9/13/19: Kent, OH - The Kent Stage
**9/14/19: Chicago, IL - Riot Fest (The Selecter performs the Too Much Pressure album)
***Also on 9/14/19: Chicago, IL - Reggie's (Rhoda Dakar backed by The Crombies)
9/15/19: Denver, CO - Marquis Theater
9/17/19: San Francisco, CA - Mezzanine
9/18/19: San Diego, CA - Casbah
9/19/19: San Diego, CA - Casbah
9/20/19: Hermosa Beach, CA - Saint Rocke
9/21/19: Pomona, CA - The Glass House

Note: The Chicago dates above are not officially part of this tour--The Selecter is at Riot Fest without Dakar, who plays at Reggie's backed by The Crombies!

+ + + +

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Lee "Scratch" Perry "Rainford"

Lee Perry is depicted in three poses, riding horses into battle: one brandishing a sword, another a bow and arrow, and the third urging his followers forward into the fight.(Review by Steve Shafer)

I have to admit that following 2018's excellent, Black Ark-sounding The Black Album (with ace producer Daniel Boyle), it took repeated plays for me to get into Lee Scratch Perry's latest album Rainford (CD/LP/digital, On-U Sound, 2019), co-produced and co-written with On-U's Adrian Sherwood. Now that all of these tracks are firmly embedded in my head, I've found that it's very much on par with Perry and Sherwood's phenomenal, left-field classic Time Boom X De Devil Dead, recorded with Dub Syndicate in 1987 (Sherwood and Perry's most recent collaboration was The Mighty Upsetter in 2008). Like Time Boom, Rainford is filled with brilliantly inventive sonic weirdness married to quirkily catchy and compelling reggae tunes--and is sure to be recognized as another essential Lee Scratch Perry album in a catalogue bursting with them.

As expected, Rainford contains common Perry themes (driving out/vanquishing evil; toppling the powerful and selfish rich--see the album artwork) and messages (of black empowerment, anti-racism, and the wisdom of Jah's righteous ways). And as always, there's great substance beneath the seemingly mad surface of exhortations and vocal sound effects (Perry mimicking the cries of babies, the bleats, neighs, and grunts of various animals, and horror movie screams). Perry knows full well that his decades-long reputation for being a bit of a lunatic gives him considerable freedom (or lee-way!) to express some heavy and--what establishment society might consider to be--dangerous ideas and opinions.

Album opener "Cricket on the Moon" begins with Perry reciting, "'Repent,' says the cricket on the moon/'Repent,' says the cricket in the room...Mercy call and judgment come." I've never encountered this expression before, but apparently a moon cricket is an ugly racial slur. In this context, Perry is subverting an aspect of this racist trope--essentially, a black person in a sea of whites--as a metaphor for rastas/Jamaicans/people of color struggling against the dominant, sinful Babylon ("I'm the man in the moon/Who kicked the Pope in him raas"). In addition, there could be another layer of meaning rolled into this song, as 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong being the first (white) human to step on the moon (when researching this epithet, I also found that supposedly Native Americans have used it as a derogatory term for white people). Naturally, cricket-like chirps are incorporated throughout this wonderful, loping reggae track.

The slightly off-kilter "Run Evil Spirit" is in the same vein of Perry and Max Romeo's "Chase the Devil," with various upstanding rastas (whose religiously proscribed diet includes a lot of fish--hence, "fisherman," with its Biblical echoes) and super humans (Perry refers to the "Bionic Man" at one point!) joining forces to rid the land of wickedness: "Fisherman come/Babylon run...Beggars, users, run/Superman a come/And I've told him what you've done, evil spirit/I said you run/Obeah man a run/Spiderman a come..." Unlike most of the mid-tempo tracks on Rainford, the propulsive, almost hypnotic "Makumba Rock" has the power to pack dance floors and refers to the Brazilian via Africa religion of Macumba: "Voodoo rock/Zodiac rock/Makumba rock...From roots asylum/This is mental zodiac/Are you ready for the black magic?"

Perry pictures himself as captain of a futuristic Black Star Liner on "African Starship" (which revisits/reworks Creation Rebel's 1978 Starship Africa), repatriating the black diaspora to a new Ethiopia somewhere out on the final frontier. While, the hard-hitting, militant-sounding "Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers" envisions Perry entering the nightmarish, fever dreams of the rich to scuttle their rapacious, predatory scams before they can unleash them in reality and cause good people to suffer ("In the land of dreams/The greed is dead/In the land of schemes/Settle dem debts/In the land of flesh and bones/More than stones and bones/Rocklin' horror movies and scary scenes/A horrible place...We're going to have a black magic for you tonight...We are inviting you down to meet your debt...").

Perhaps the most extraordinary song on the record is "Autobiography of The Upsetter," which is exactly what the title indicates. This is Lee "Scratch" Perry's life's story ("This is my undead biographicie and prophesy"), told with surprising candor, self-awareness, and humor. Perry recounts his familial origins ("My Father was a Freemason, my Mother was an Eto Queen/They share a dream together/Said they're going to make a Godly being"; Rainford is Perry's actual first name); the many highlights of his extensive musical career (and related music industry axes to grind--the listener is reminded that Perry still believes Island's Chris Blackwell to be a bloodsucker); even the episodes of his life where people questioned his sanity, when he was actually profoundly troubled by pernicious goings on in the world around him ("People thought I was mad... Burn down Black Ark/Too much iniquity, too much outerquity was in the Ark/People thought I was crazy...walking backward in Spanish Town"). In sum, it recaps his incredible, visionary artistic legacy, which Perry continues to augment with records like Rainford: "I came up with the Ark, with salvation/And let the people dance/And give the people a chance/I am the Upsetter/Super Ape/Dub organizer, music striver/Pipecock Jackson/Lee Scratch Perry."

+ + + +

Friday, September 6, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Prince Fatty featuring Big Youth and George Dekker "Everything Crash"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

"Everything Crash" is the fantastic second single released in advance of Prince Fatty's forthcoming In the Viper's Shadow album, which will be issued on October 4, 2019 and can be pre-ordered now (the first single off this record was "Get Ready," which we reviewed here). This track, of course, is a cover of The Ethiopians' 1969 hit (inspired by public worker strikes during an economic crisis in JA in '68: "Firemen strike/Water men strike/Telephone company, too/Down to the policemen, too...What gone bad a-morning/Can't come good a-evening, whoa/Every day carry bucket to the well/One day the bottom must drop out"), but in this version--featuring the always brilliant Big Youth and wonderfully mellifluous George Dekker (The Pioneers)--the concern is about global environmental collapse due to humanity's incredibly poor stewardship/outright abuse of the planet. Big Youth impassionedly chats: "People need to take a check and look at what we do/Take a likkle stop and look at what we do/Leaders of government/Leaders of war...We need to take of our nuclear waste/We need to find a better place/Global reasoning/This is global argument/There's so much emission in the air..." (he goes on to decry fluoride in the water, though that seems pretty low on the list of extraordinary damage we've done to the land, air, and other living things, but his point is still well-taken--the water's not pure and clean). With this track, Prince Fatty, George Dekker, and Big Youth have created an "Armagideon Time" of sorts for our man-made global warming Anthropocene era. As always, this is a top Prince Fatty production and signals just how great his In the Viper's Shadow is likely to be...

+ + + +

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Fall 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #8

Photo: John Coles 
Wednesday, September 11, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Selecter w/special guest DJ Rhoda Dakar (Bodysnatchers/Special AKA)

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

+ + + +

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Black Uhuru

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
$25 in advance/$30 day of show
All ages

+ + + +

Friday, September 20, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Toasters, Hub City Stompers, Beat Brigade, Catbite

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

+ + + +

Saturday, September 21, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Lee Scratch Perry and Subatomic Sound System, The Far East, DJ 2Melo

Industry City Courtyard 1/2
(Food Hall Entrance)
238 36th Street,
Brooklyn, NY
$25 in advance/$32 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Thursday, September 26, 2019, doors @ 6:00 pm/show @ 8:00 pm

UB40 (Robin Campbell, Brian Travers, Jimmy Brown, Earl Falconer and Norman Hassan, Duncan Campbell, Martin Meredith, Lawrence Parry and Tony Mullings)

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
Tickets: $39.50 in advance/$45 day of show
All ages

+ + + +

Saturday, September 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla 4th Anniversary Party w/The Ladrones, Brunt of It, Raise the Kicks, The Screw-Ups, The Oneness, plus DJ Gorilla

Desmond's Tavern
433 Park Avenue South
New York, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Five Iron Frenzy, Mustard Plug, Mephiskapheles

Gramercy Theatre
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$26.50 in advance/$30 day of show
16+

+ + + +

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
$35

+ + + +

Friday, November 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville presents The Penniless Loafers, Smittix, plus DJ Ryan Midnight

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
New York, NY
No cover/21+ (but bring $ for tip bucket for bands)

+ + + +

Friday, December 20, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Slackers

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$22/18+

+ + + +

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Duff Review: "Memoirs of a Ska Librarian: The History of Rude Skazine"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

From our vantage point in time, it's kind of quaint to imagine/remember a time before the internet and social media, when information about non-mainstream bands was sometimes nearly impossible to come by. But, thanks to the late '70s punk DIY ethos that helped spawn zine culture (see Punk, Sniffin' Glue, Jamming, etc.), fans of underground sounds and scenes from the mid-'70s on strived to remedy that dilemma by creating their own means of disseminating band news, interviews, and reviews, filling a void that the establishment music press likely didn't know existed (or didn't deem profitable enough to cover or care about).

For the late '80s/early '90s ska scene, skazines were crucial lifelines to what was going on outside one's own limited sphere of experience and knowledge. Apart from a printed catalogue from an indie label, a flyer for a show on a telephone pole or in a record store window, or second-hand info via a ska-obsessed friend, there was virtually no other source of ska info than a zine (I first became involved in the ska scene by writing reviews for the Bakersfield, CA-based skazine Roughneck Business back in 1990). Since the mid-to-late '80s British ska scene (The Loafers, Potato 5, Laurel Aitken, Deltones, Trojans, Maroon Town, Hotknives, Riffs, Capone and the Bullets, King Hammond, Bad Manners, etc.) had a big jump on its American counterpart (which didn't really get its act together nationally until 1993-1994; earlier in the 1980s, ska flourished in a few US cities, but these scenes were largely parochial and isolated), the UK skazines cropped up a bit earlier. In addition to George Marshall's fantastic, but much shorter-lived, Zoot!, the other absolutely essential UK skazine of this period was Kevin Flowerdew's Rude. While most skazines reported on a local or regional scene, Rude endeavored to cover it all--and was by far the greatest source of international ska news, bar none.

Originally written on a typewriter, then cut and pasted, and xeroxed, each issue of Rude offered dozens upon dozens of short paragraphs conveying the latest news relating to ska bands' tours and goings on, and/or brief reviews of new releases. It was a wealth of precious ska info contained on two (or more) folded and stapled A4 sheets of paper that tipped you off to your next favorite band or album (from the next town over or the other side of the world) that you never knew existed.

Kevin Flowerdew's Memoirs of a Ska Librarian: The History of Rude Skazine (5 zines printed on glossy paper, Do The Dog Music, 2019) celebrates the best of Rude, which was published between 1989 and 1996 (when Flowerdew changed the name of the zine to Do The Dog, to match the ska label that he had launched). Memoirs focuses on Flowerdew's intro to ska (via 2 Tone, of course), the origins and history of Rude, as well as his front row experience witnessing the rise of The Loafers (his brother Sean's first band--he'd later be in Special Beat and Pama International, and created the London International Ska Festival in 1988, which continues to this day). Flowerdew wasn't just documenting and promoting the scene, he was urged to form his own group by the "Godfather of Ska" himself, Laurel Aitken (his sage advice: "If you love ska, you should start your own band")--and quickly followed Aitken's directive by founding Bakesys Midday Joggers (later shortened to The Bakesys), whose history and exploits are also recounted here. Memoirs of a Ska Librarian is accompanied by four special issues of Rude--each covering two-year periods from 1989-1990, 1991-1992, 1993-1994, and 1995-1996--and reprinting the best bits from those respective years. In particular, it's fascinating to watch the American ska scene explode as you turn these pages.

Rude had an astonishingly broad reach and was incredibly influential--so much so, that back when I was doing promotions for Moon Ska Records, Rude was always amongst the first batch of promo copies of a new release that I'd mail out (in the early years, these were cassettes!). At a time when people either had to (proactively) mail-order an album or head out to their local record shop to buy it, Rude's review was vital to getting the word out to ska fans (who would hopefully support our bands with their hard-earned cash!). What was particularly impressive was how Flowerdew gave everyone a fair shake--if a band took the time to send him a letter or package, he'd write about them in the next issue. It was a very democratic approach; new bands on the block received the same coverage as established ones and made Rude's scope all the more comprehensive. And that's what makes the librarian comparison in the title so apt--with Rude, Flowerdew was cataloging that era of ska like no one else on the planet.

Whether you lived through this time as a ska fan or missed out on it due to the timing of your birth or other circumstances, you'll find Memoirs of a Ska Librarian and the special editions of Rude a truly great read that will likely spur you to dig out albums from this period to play or track down copies of records you definitely now need on Discogs. But they also help document this pre-digital era in ska, so much of which only remains in fans' memories, record collections, and in shoeboxes in closets--and remind one of how the 1990s ska scene would have been significantly diminished/hampered had this amazing skazine not existed.

+ + + +