Sunday, August 20, 2017

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Smiley and the Underclass "Rebels Out There"

CD/LP/digital download
Bredda Records
2017

(Review by Steve Shafer)

I knew I probably was going to like Smiley and the Underclass' LP when my mail ordered copy arrived in NYC from the UK with the following request on the back of the mailer: "Dear Mailman, if you pass Trump Tower, stick a middle finger up for me." (Hopefully, he or she complied!)

London's Smiley and the Underclass occupy the same fantastic punk 'n' reggae space as The Clash, The Ruts, and Citizen Fish--and are equally as outspoken in the face of injustice as those aforementioned bands. Their fiercely good debut album Rebels Out There (produced by Nick Manasseh) is filled with indelible songs of outrage and lament over our thoroughly screwed up world--societal breakdown ("Babylon is Spiraling Out of Control") and environmental apocalypse ("Another Kind of Human") loom on the horizon throughout the course of these songs--but the band often posits that the solutions to these myriad issues will only come about if the listener becomes involved and takes action. However bad it is out there, it's not hopeless (yet).

Indeed, on the anti-conformist title track, Smiley repeatedly wails "Are there any rebels out there?" and then urges the listener, "Don't pay your mortgage, don't pay your tax/Take your money out of their banks/Know your neighbours, secret town halls/People means us, politics means wars/Real rebels grow food, don't eat that shit/from a pale faced clown who wants to kill off the kids/Mother nature's dying while we're running this race/Can we look our grandkids in the face?" Likewise, in the brilliant "Want Stuff/Make Stuff," Smiley and the Underclass want to shake you out of apathy/complacency to actively lead your life, no matter what your station or circumstance: "We're living and swimming within a time that's getting harder/No money, austerity, predatory while the rich hide in the larder/But I love ya, I love ya, no matter where you're heads at today/So I say/Want stuff? Make stuff /Want love? Make love/Want truth? Make truth in the booth..." (presumably both the voting and recording booths). And there's a great environmental plea wrapped within ("So, all I really got to say in case the Earth should pass away/Please be kind and use your mind and plant a zillion trees a day!"). Do be sure to check out all of their song lyrics on their Bandcamp page (they're not included with the LP).

Other standout tracks include "It's All England," which is about feeling and being disenfranchised in your own, completely familiar land ("When I think of England I don't think of black cabs and cops/I think of chain links and locks/Dirty looks and chicken shops, tower blocks/and a wrap of weed in my socks"); the skabilly "Machiavelli Blues" (what you get when you live in a society that values duplicity and self-interest above all else); the Jim Morrison referencing "No-One's Getting Out," a song from the perspective of life itself (as if it were a character in "The Seventh Seal"); their powerful cover of Johnny Osbourne's "Truth and Rights"; and the gleeful, you-have-to-sing-along anthem of empowerment and rebellion, "Jump the Barrier."

People looking for potent protest music for the Trump/May era need look no further than Smiley and the Underclass' dynamite Rebels Out There.



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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Duff Review: Pama International "Love and Austerity"

Heavyweight LP, CD, digital download (the album is also being released as a series of four singles via Record Kicks)
Happy People Records
2017

(Review by Steve Shafer)

I've been listening to Pama International's ninth album for weeks now, ruminating about whether or not this is a political concept record of sorts (read on to find out!). However, during that time, what's never been in question is the sheer excellence of all of the ska-reggae-soul songs contained on Pama International's Love and Austerity. The LP is anchored by two incredible covers that kick off each side: Martha and the Vandellas' "Heatwave" and John Holt's "Man Next Door." The former could be read as a metaphor for climate change, while the latter might be interpreted as being about societal breakdown ("I've got to get away from here/This is not a place for me to stay/I've got to take my family/And find a quiet place"). Even the one catchy instrumental on the album is named "Gasoline" (the literal fuel of our planet's destruction and a prime example of humankind's extreme folly). To this mix, add their original "Austerity Skank," which tries to shake off the gray of the punishing Cameron--and now Theresa May/Brexit--years through PMA: "Hard times have come/Now, hard times be gone/No more illusions/System delusions/Our hard times are done...I'm stepping out to a better place/Tired of all of the lies getting in the way/I just want to be free/With no austerity..."

Even most of the lush love songs on this album (with the exception of "Skies Are Blue"--for now!) are filled with friction, dysfunction, and entropy. Life is passing by a man sleepwalking through his relationship in "Wake Up" ("We spend hours/Worrying about the business/Just to go and miss the sunset...Wake up, my darling/For you are the reason why/I celebrate life every time you smile"). Another couple is on the verge of breaking up in "I Cried Until I Stopped"--she's heartbroken over what must happen (but even her tears have limits)--though by the end of the song she defiantly sings that she'll "never stop loving you." The last track on the LP is a soulful cover of John Loudermilk's 1962 tune "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," which on its face is hopeful about a couple's future together, but can't quite push away the reality that not everything lasts ("Kiss me each morning for a million years/Hold me each evening by your side/Tell me you'll love me for a million years/Then if it don't work out/Then if it don't work out/Then you can tell me goodbye").

On Love and Austerity, Pama International's lyrics may be downbeat, but the exquisite music and wonderful performances pack a staggering emotional wollop. This is the music to help get you through the rough days that most likely lay ahead...

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Summer/Fall 2017 Ska Calendar #50

The incomparable Rico.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Brown Rice Family

Madison Square Park
Between Fifth and Madison Avenues, 23rd and 26th Streets
Manhattan, NY
Free!

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Thursday, August 3, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

Descendents, Mephiskapheles, Audacity

House of Vans
25 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY
RSVP at HouseOfVans.com

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017 @ 7:30 pm

The Selecter, Rude Boy George, The Pandemics

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$30 in advance/$35 day of show
All ages!

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Sunday, August 13, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

King Yellowman and the Sagittarius Band

B.B. King's
237 West 42nd Street
New York, NY
$22.50 (and up)

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Saturday, August 19, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla presents Dubistry, Aqua Cherry, PrinceLionSound, Subtropico Militia Heavy Sound

Pista
96-11 Roosevelt Avenue
Queens, NY
$10/all ages

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Fishbone

The Harbor Lights Yacht
Departs from: East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive
New York, NY
$39/21+

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Monday, September 4, 2017 @ 1:00 pm

Escarioka

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Rockaway Park, Queens
Free!

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Friday, September 8, 2017 @ 6:30 pm

Pilfers 20th Anniversary

The Well
272 Meserole Street
Brooklyn, NY

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Black Uhuru

B.B. King's
237 West 42nd Street
New York, NY
$25 in advance/$30 day of show
All ages!

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Saturday, October 14, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla Fest 2 with Beat Brigade, Skarroñeros, Raise the Kicks, Rebushchaos

Pista
96-11 Roosevelt Avenue
Queens, NY
$10/all ages

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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Selecter and Saxa (RIP) in the August 2017 Issue of MOJO

The August 2017 issue of MOJO magazine (which is taking longer and longer to find its way over to the USA each month; my newsagent told me that he heard that the distributor might start bringing the bulk of each month's issues over by boat and only have some copies airmailed--and the consumer would pay more for the airmailed copies if they want to receive them more quickly!) features a fantastic warts-and-all four-page history of The Selecter by Lois Wilson, as well as an obit for The Beat's late and truly amazing saxophonist, Saxa (compare it to our remembrance of the man).

The Selecter feature hews fairly closely to what I've read about the band previously (particularly via Pauline Black's autobiography "Black by Design"), though I don't think it's been ever stated so clearly that Black (according to Neol Davies) was the one to break up the Celebrate the Bullet-era Selecter--and I had no idea how the early 90s revival of The Selecter, which included both Davies and Black (and was quite good live--see Out on the Streets), managed to lose Davies fairly early on. This piece does give short shrift to the recent Black/Hendrickson/Pyzer version of The Selecter; they've released a series of undeniably great albums full of new material and have extensively toured in support of them (and they're playing in the USA again this August). Oh, and it seems that The Selecter's forthcoming album was originally titled Human Too.

When I was writing my obit for Saxa, I found it pretty difficult to find any reliable info about Saxa's goings on in the UK in the 1960s--he claimed to have played with The Beatles and Elvis during that time (I did track down Malu Halasa's "Twist and Crawl," an entertaining Wha'ppen-era biography of The Beat, but even that didn't have a lot of solid facts on Saxa's background). So, it was interesting to see that MOJO's Ian Harrison had similar challenges. All in all, MOJO did Saxa proud.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pre-Order The Selecter's New Album "Daylight"/See the "Frontline" Video

You can now pre-order The Selecter's new album Daylight (the fourth from this iteration of the band), which will be released on October 6, 2017 on CD, heavyweight vinyl, and digital download. As we previously noted, the band already has issued the first digital single off the record, "Frontline" (see the official music video below).

The quality control of The Selecter's recent albums has been undeniably high (see our review of Subculture), so my gut feeling (reinforced by the amazing "Frontline") is that this one will be a keeper, as well. (I've pre-ordered the vinyl, which will may be hard to find in the US...)



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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Summer/Fall 2017 Ska Calendar #49

Long live The Slits!
Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

The Dirty Notion, The Applecores, plus DJ Duff

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (close to Avenue B)
New York, NY
No cover, but bring $ for when we pass the bucket for each band.
21+

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Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

Brown Rice Family, DJ Duct Tape

Archway Under the Manhattan Bridge
155 Water Street
Dumbo, Brooklyn
Free!

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Saturday, July 15, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

The Wailers, The Far East

Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
New York, NY
$25

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Saturday, July 15, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths, Third World

Ford Amphitheater at the Coney Island Boardwalk
3052 West 21st Street
Brooklyn, NY
$108

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Sunday, July 16, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

NYC Ska Orchestra

Queens Botanical Garden
43-50 Main Street
Queens, NY
FREE with Garden Admission: Adults – $6; Seniors (age 62+) – $4; Students with ID – $4; Children (ages 4 to 12) – $2; Children (3 and under) – FREE; Members – FREE.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Aquabats

Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
New York, NY
$25-$125

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones w/Mephiskapheles, Vic Ruggiero

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$25.50-$35.00
18+

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Far East, The Steady 45s, DJ Agent Jay

Cape House
2 Knickerbocker Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, July 29, 2017 @ 1:00 pm

Beat Brigade, Joker's Republic

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Rockaway Park
Free!

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017 @ 7:30 pm

The Selecter, Rude Boy George, The Pandemics

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$30 in advance/$35 day of show
All ages!

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Sunday, August 13, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

King Yellowman and the Sagittarius Band

B.B. King's
237 West 42nd Street
New York, NY
$22.50 (and up)

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Fishbone

The Harbor Lights Yacht
Departs from: East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive
New York, NY
$39/21+

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Black Uhuru

B.B. King's
237 West 42nd Street
New York, NY
$25 in advance/$30 day of show
All ages!

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

New Single ("Frontline"), Album ("Daylight"), and US Tour from The Selecter

(by Steve Shafer)

The Selecter with Pauline Black and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson have just released the winning new digital single "Frontline" to promote their upcoming album Daylight, which will be issued on October 6, 2017. 

Picking up where the powerful "Ghost Town"-like "Breakdown" left off (which is from their recent Subculture album, read The Duff Guide to Ska review here), the wildly catchy "Frontline" is critical of our smartphone/social media addicted society, where we have significantly more access to information and each other than ever before in the history of humanity, but actually seem to be increasingly disconnected, numb, and apathetic as a result. "Frontline's" reference to the extrajudicial/racial police killing of Eric Garner makes it also a call for real, in-person protesting and organizing for social justice and change--not Facebook posts that float without impact in the ether of cyberspace.

"Frontline, out on the street
Frontline, out on the street

Don't get me started
I'm all in a rush
You want to push me
Under a bus

I'm feeling restless
I need to believe
In something more
Than I want to stay free

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

Frontline, out on the street
Frontline, out on the street

I feel a hunger
A hunger in me
I saw a man
Pushed off his feet

He tried to be
All he could be
He shouted out
"Now, I can't breathe!"

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

Frontline, out on the street
Frontline, out on the street

I'm nobody's, nobody's hashtag
Ever the mighty shall fall
I'm nobody's, nobody's hashtag
Nobody's hashtag at all"

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The Selecter's "Frontline" is available from these digital retailers (and it would make a great 7" vinyl single...):

iTunes - http://po.st/frontlineitunes
Amazon - http://po.st/frontlineamazon
Spotify - http://po.st/frontlinespotify

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The Selecter will be touring the USA and Canada this August (see dates and venues above in the image). The NYC show also features openers Rude Boy George (who also are playing the Fairfield, CT date) and The Pandemics. If The Selecter are coming anywhere near you, make sure to catch their performance--they're amazingly good these days (here's my write-up of their show in NYC last fall as proof).

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: King Kong 4 "There's Not Much That You or I Can Do About It," Jackie Mittoo "Striker Showcase"

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

King Kong 4 There's Not Much That You or I Can Do About It (Five-track digital EP, Winterbeard Records, 2017): I saw the harrowing movie version of Nevil Shute's post-World War III/doomsday novel "On the Beach" (where the last bits of humanity in Melbourne, Australia wait for the the nuclear fallout to reach and kill them--though most of the characters opt out via suicide pills, rather than suffering an agonizing death due to radiation poisoning) while in middle school at the end of the 1970s, when nuclear armageddon was a terrifyingly real possibility (and kept me up at nights). While King Kong 4's There's Not Much That You or I Can Do About It EP and its song titles are all taken from Shute's bleak novel (note the mushroom clouds in the EP cover art), all of their instrumental tracks are actually pleasantly bright and cheery. "Going a Bit Mad in Our Own Way" (with its incredible ice rink organ line), "To Lose Before You Start" (which features samples of President Harry Truman talking about bombing Hiroshima), and "Sitting Behind the Wheel of Her Car" (plus two dub versions) are fantastic spaghetti Western ska tracks (appropriate, given America's cowboy image/mythology and notoriety as the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war). One imagines the KK4 up in Toronto, watching in resigned horror as its destabilized and unpredictable superpower neighbor wreaks havoc on the world, but opting to keep on creating (life-affirming) music rather than giving into helplessness and despair.

Jackie Mittoo Striker Showcase (2xCD, 17 North Parade/VP Records, 2017): Back in the latter half of the 70s, producer Bunny "Striker" Lee arranged for Studio One's former musical director, arranger, and master keyboardist Jackie Mittoo (Skatalites, Soul Vendors/Brothers, Sound Dimension) to depart his adopted Toronto for the UK and JA to re-record/re-interpret many of his seminal ridders that he created for Coxsone Dodd in the 1960s ("Hot Milk," "Ram Jam," and dozens more) for a series of albums: The Keyboard King (1977), Hot Blood (1977), Showcase (1978), and In Cold Blood (1978). For these wonderfully loose, warm, and funky recordings, Mittoo was backed by a stellar band that included Sly Dunbar on drums, Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Winston Wright and Ansel Collins on piano, Earl "Chinna" Smith on guitar, and Tony Chin, Winston "Bo Pee" Bowen, Geoffrey Chung, and Carl Harvey on rhythm guitar--all providing Mittoo with the rock solid roots foundation for him to work his extraordinary keyboard magic. Even if you picked up Blood and Fire's Champion in the Arena, 1976-1977 back in 2003, which contains most of what's on the first half of this release, you'll want this comp for its second CD. You can never have enough Jackie Mittoo in your collection.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Summer/Fall 2017 Ska Calendar #48

Photo by Janette Beckman
Friday, June 9, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Specials, The Far East

Brooklyn Steel
319 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY
$50/16+

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Saturday, June 10, 2017 @ 9:00 pm (2 sets!)

Larry McDonald's 80th Birthday Party w/Dave Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7, plus DJ One Hundred Decibels

Hank's Saloon
46 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$8

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Saturday, June 10, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Alla Spina, Beat Brigade, The Screw Ups, The Oneness

Legion Bar
790 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$5

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Sunday, June 18, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Protoje

Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
New York, NY
$25-$28

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Friday, June 23, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle
299 South Street
New York, NY
$30/21+

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Friday, June 23, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

Hub City Stompers, 45 Adapters, Hardknocks, Vinny and the Hooligans

Cape House
2 Knickerbocker Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, July 1, 2017 @ 1:00 pm

Reggay Lords

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Rockaway Park
Free!

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Wednesday, July 4, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

The Wailing Souls

B.B. King's
237 West 42nd Street
New York, NY
$25 in advance/$30 day of show
All ages!

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Saturday, July 8, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Desorden Publico, Los Mesoneros

SOB's
204 Varick Street
New York, NY
$30-$35/21+

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Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

The Dirty Notion, The Applecores, Barbicide, plus DJ Duff

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (close to Avenue B)
New York, NY
No cover, but bring $ for when we pass the bucket.
21+

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Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

Brown Rice Family, DJ Duct Tape

Archway Under the Manhattan Bridge
155 Water Street
Dumbo, Brooklyn
Free!

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Saturday, July 15, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths, Third World

Ford Amphitheater at the Coney Island Boardwalk
3052 West 21st Street
Brooklyn, NY
$108

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Sunday, July 16, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

NYC Ska Orchestra

Queens Botanical Garden
43-50 Main Street
Queens, NY
FREE with Garden Admission: Adults – $6; Seniors (age 62+) – $4; Students with ID – $4; Children (ages 4 to 12) – $2; Children (3 and under) – FREE; Members – FREE.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Aquabats

Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
New York, NY
$25-$125

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$25.50-$35.00
18+

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Saturday, July 29, 2017 @ 1:00 pm

Beat Brigade

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Rockaway Park
Free!

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017 @ 7:30 pm

The Selecter, Rude Boy George, The Pandemics

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$30 in advance/$35 day of show
All ages!

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Black Uhuru

B.B. King's
237 West 42nd Street,
New York, NY
$25 in advance/$30 day of show
All ages!

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