Thursday, August 28, 2014

NYC Summer/Fall 2014 Ska Calendar #16

Summer holiday's almost done...
Thursday, August 28, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Vic Ruggiero, Kepi Ghoulie, Todd Fausnacht

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Friday, August 29, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

Mrs. Skannotto, Across the Aisle, The Shipwrecks

The Knitting Factory
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$12 day of show

+ + + +

Saturday, September 6, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Inspecter 7, Lion's Law, Step 2 Far, Skarroneros

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$15

+ + + +

Sunday, September, 7, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

U2Nation and Rude Boy George (goes on at 7:45 pm)

Fairfield Theater Company
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT
$25

+ + + +

Thursday, September 11, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

The Scofflaws

Declan Quinn's
227 Fourth Avenue
Bayshore, NY

+ + + +

Saturday, September 13, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

Dig Deeper w/Ken Parker backed by Crazy Baldhead, plus Deadly Dragon Soundsystem, DJ Honky, and Mr. Robinson

Littlefield
622 Degraw Street
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show

+ + + +

Monday, September 22, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

The Far East w/Pears

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$9/21+

+ + + +

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
Manhattan, NY
$41.50

+ + + +

Thursday, October 30, 2014

3rd Annual Devils Night w/Mephiskapheles, The Toasters, No Redeeming Social Value, and The Ladrones

Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston Street
Manhattan, NY
Tickets: $23.85 (through this link)
21+

+ + + +

Friday, December 5, 2014 @ 9:30 pm

Rude Boy George and special guests (two old school NYC ska bands!)

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street
Manhattan, NY
No cover/21+

+ + + +

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Scofflaws

89 North
89 North Ocean Avenue
Patchogue, NY
Free/21+

+ + + +

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NYC Screening of "Riot on the Dance Floor: The Story of Randy Now and City Gardens"

Check out The NY Citizens button on Randy's bag!
I'm sad to say that I never made it down to see a ska show at the legendary, but long-closed City Gardens in down-and-out Trenton, NJ. While in the 80s and 90s this venue run by promoter New Wave DJ and postal worker Randy Now showcased some of the best punk, hardcore, hip-hop, metal, New Wave, and alternative acts around, Now also put together tons of ska shows that featured bands like Fishbone, The Skatalites, The Toasters, Bim Skala bim, The NY Citizens, Panic/Bigger Thomas, King Apparatus, Dance Hall Crashers, The Skunks, Mephiskapheles, and many more. So, as the US ska scene grew in the late 80s and early 90s, City Gardens became a vital spot along the ska touring route along the I-95 corridor between NYC and Philly.

With this in mind, NYC-area ska fans will want to catch a screening of a new documentary titled, "Riot on the Dance Floor: The Story of Randy Now and City Gardens," which is playing tomorrow night (Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 7:00 pm) at the AMC Loews Village 7 (66 Third Avenue in Manhattan).

There will be questions and answers session after the film with the director (Steve Tozzi) and members of the Butthole Surfers (Gibby Haynes), Rollins Band (Sim Cain), and the Cro-Mags (John Joseph), as well as an after party at Bowery Electric with Gibby Haynes DJing.

Fans of Bigger Thomas (and Rude Boy George) will find this documentary of interest, as Roger Apollon and Marc Wasserman are interviewed in the film (they're also in a new book about City Gardens titled, "Notice: No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens," by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico).


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Life's Little Victories: Record Collecting Edition #1

Last week, as I was re-reading sections of Paul "Willo" Williams' wonderful and definitive biography of The Specials, "You're Wondering Now: The Specials from Conception to Reunion," I came across a section detailing some of the rare versions of 2 Tone releases that the collector might want to try to track down. While I'm not a 2 Tone completist, whenever I stumble upon a 2 Tone release that I don't have, of course, I'll grab it (within the last few months at the same used record store, I found and bought copies of The Apollinaires' "The Feeling's Gone" and The Higsons' "Tear the Whole Thing Down" singles, both of which I'd never seen before, since they were never released in the US--and ended up ordering the 10" Special AKA "War Crimes" single via Discogs). But reading about the 2 Tone rarities in Willo's book rekindled my interest in them.

So, while I was looking at a Comsat Angels single on eBay, I checked out a few of the other New Wave-era singles that the seller was offering and found a near mint copy of one of the self-released/Rough Trade-distributed (and pre-Chrysalis) singles of The Specials' "Gangsters" b/w The Selecter's "The Selecter" (though without the stamped sleeve). Since it wasn't pricey (and I only had the US pressing of this single in my collection), I bid on it and won. When it arrived this week, I put it on my turntable and was surprised to find that A) the paper labels were reversed (so "The Selecter" track was on the side with the "Gangsters" label and vice versa), and B) this version of "Gangsters" fades out at the end!

I'm not sure how many of these are out there (they're not mentioned in Willo's book), but I'm thrilled to unexpectedly have a mislabeled version of "Gangsters" come into my collection!

+ + + +

Update (8/27/14): Paul Willo just got his hands on Jerry Dammers' test pressing of "Gangsters," which apparently has a different mix than the version of the song that was eventually released. I can't think of anyone else in the world who deserves to have that rarest of rare 2 Tone singles in his collection! Congrats, Willo!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Know Your Product: The Interrupters

Since I've never really been into ska-punk, I didn't expect to find myself writing about the new album from The Interrupters, except for the fact that their press materials trade on the band's professed love of 2 Tone--something that is lazily regurgitated in reviews like this one in AP and this one in Rolling Stone (Australia). The reason this irks me is that The Interrupters' sound is clearly derived from Rancid's popular punk rock take on ska (which, of course, Tim Armstrong--who produced this album--pioneered with Operation Ivy back in the late 80s) and bears little resemblance to the music of the 2 Tone groups. But what I find really disturbing--and what's compelling me to write this post--is how The Interrupters are draping themselves in 2 Tone's mantle while advocating right-wing and libertarian viewpoints that are the polar opposite of those espoused by The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, et al. You should know what you're buying into before you decide to support this band. The music and the message matter--particularly in a genre of music that has a long history of decrying social and economic injustice.

I was alerted to The Interrupter's politics by my friend Matthew, who has rather cheekily dubbed the band as "Tea-Tone," since their singer, Aimee Allen (AKA Aimee Interrupter), is a libertarian (essentially, anti-tax and anti-federal government) and huge Ron Paul supporter (check out "Ron Paul Revolution," a song she wrote and recorded in support of Ron Paul's 2008 presidential bid; its words are here), and The Interrupters' lyrics seem steeped in Tea Party buzz words and phrases (more on that below). Allen also is on the record stating some pretty radical, right-wing things--check out her interviews with Patriot Movement conspiracy theorist Alex Jones herehereherehere, and here (and, while you're at it, read what the Southern Law Poverty Center has to say about Alex Jones here). She's also convinced that the CIA hired some "Mexican gang members" to violently attack her several years ago (apparently, it had something to do with her 2003 "Revolution" song and her label folding?). If you do a Google search on her, you'll find yourself in some pretty dark, paranoid places on the internet, as she's popular with that crowd.

While The Specials' and other 2 Tone groups' songs are filled with a great deal of anger, frustration, and outrage at the government, this rage was focused on the British government's policies regarding youth unemployment, the police's oppressive treatment of black citizens and non-white immigrants through the dreaded SUS law (akin to the racial profiling police policy of "stop and frisk" here in the US), and deep cuts to the social safety net (if you don't believe my take on The Specials' songs and their politics, see Dick Hebdige's "Cut and Mix" or Paul Williams' "You're Wondering Now").

The Specials weren't interested in tearing down their national government--they wanted it to do more to help the people--particularly their despondent peers. The Specials believed that government could and should have been the vehicle to solve the many dire socio-economic issues plaguing England in the late 70s and early 80s (a perfect example is how they criticized Margaret Thatcher's government for not doing enough to support working class young people in the midst of severe economic depression and massive unemployment in "Ghost Town:" "Government leaving the youth on the shelf...No job to be found in this country.") The Specials didn't believe that the free market would resolve these issues (because the purpose of business is to make money, not solve societal problems or serve the greater good--the bottom line is all that matters), nor did they think a "Lord of the Flies"/every man for himself approach would fix things either. The Specials also promoted multiculturalism, tolerance, racial unity, and actively supported Rock Against Racism (during a time when the National Front and other racist groups were on the rise and frequently attacking non-white people--including Lynval Golding, prompting him to write the song "Why?")--and later The Special AKA created the anti-apartheid movement's brilliant anthem, "Nelson Mandela" (and in 1986 Jerry Dammers founded the UK chapter of Artists Against Apartheid).

In contrast, Aimee Interrupter enthusiastically supports libertarian Ron Paul in his anti-tax/anti-"big" government quest to dismantle the Federal government and all of its agencies (more on that below) in favor of establishing "states rights," which, since the day Ronald Reagan infamously launched his 1980 presidential bid, signifies a dog whistle call for rolling back of all of the federal anti-discriminiation and voting rights laws that resulted from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. While I don't know if Paul is personally racist or not (though his past newsletters strongly suggest he is), his libertarian goals happen to coincide with what many right-wing racists want (the reinstatement of Jim Crow laws in the former states of the Confederacy) and I don't think Paul minds consorting with them in order to achieve his vision.

This 2012 New Yorker profile by Kelefa Sanneh notes Paul's opposition to one of the most important pieces of anti-discrimination legislation in America's history: "[Ron Paul] opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and reiterated his opposition less than a decade ago, on its fortieth anniversary, arguing that, by mandating “forced integration,” the act “increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty.” Paul sometimes seeks to offset this principled stance by reiterating his respect for civil-rights heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, even as he maintains that their political opponents were right."

In this recent piece, Nick Ramsey of MSNBC highlights some of Ron Paul's stances that are far outside mainstream political thought, are counter to firmly established American law, and some of which have no basis in reality: "In his 2011 book “Liberty Defined,” Paul wrote that the notion that everyone has a right to medical care “is an intellectual error;” in 2003, he asserted that the separation of church and state has “no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers;” he once told FOX News that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all “technically” unconstitutional; and in 2007, Paul told NBC News’s Tim Russert that Abraham Lincoln could have avoided the Civil War by simply buying and releasing all of the slaves in the Southern states. In a 2012 Republican debate, Paul claimed that in the 1960s “there was nobody on the street suffering with no medical care.” He’s also long said he wants the Federal Reserve, the CIA, and the federal income tax all abolished."

Paul wants all of this and more in the name of individual freedom (no matter what the cost to the common good).

Let's see how Paul's brand of libertarianism plays out in The Interrupters' lyrics (which can sometimes be mistaken for the typical--and good--"question authority" stance of most punk rock bands). Like many people on the far right-wing of the American political spectrum, Aimee Allen (based on her lyrics) seems to be suffering from a persecution complex--she thinks the government is literally out to get her at every turn (check out all of the lyrics about the FBI and CIA coming after her--though it's never spelled out why--simply for being a Ron Paul libertarian?). It's a very self-centered and paranoid view of the world. But it's the fantasy that fuels this political ideology (it's a given that the federal government is oppressive and determined to deny me my freedom through taxes and regulation and Social Security, etc., so we need to get rid of government).

Album opener "Take Back the Power" conveys the anti-tax and the we're-so-oppressed-our-rights-are-gone worldview held by libertarians and Tea Party-types:

"Whatcha gonna say
When they strip your rights away
And the taxman makes you pay
For every bead of sweat you bled today"

It appears that these lyrics were (disconcertingly) structured along the lines of The Specials' "It's Up to You" (sing the song in your head, but substitute the lyrics above and you'll see what I mean)--which is about The Specials stating that they're going to keep on playing their music and communicating their anti-racist/anti-violence message no matter what the audience response is, but it's also reminding the black and white listeners that they have to power and the personal responsibility to decide whether to unite or fight (and how this decision can make their society better or worse off). It's a moral challenge that every one hearing the song has to decide to accept: "What you gonna do, when morons come for you? They won't go away, they want the whole world painted grey..." The enemy here isn't government (or the fact that you have to pay taxes that go towards providing infrastructure or services that are used by and benefit everyone), but racists, the National Front, the British National Party, giving in to one's worst instincts or complacency--and the question is: are you going to do the right thing?

"Take Back the Power" also includes these lyrics that seem more real and relevant to black Americans in Ferguson, MO and many other places in the USA than to a white pop singer in LA (who's receiving lots of press for an album full of anti-government, libertarian lyrics that's clearly not being censored by anyone, since you can find the reviews all over the internet and in printed publications):

"Whatcha gonna do
When they show up in black suits
On your street in army boots
And they're there to silence you"

The over-the-top lyrics in The Interrupters' "Liberty" express the common right-wing/Tea Party fear that we're all terrifyingly close to living in some sort of Orwellian totalitarian state:

"Better quiet down
Don't speak your mind
Nod your head like everything's fine
Don't verbalize it
Cause if they hear you
They'll hunt you down and disappear you
They took it away, they got complete control
Where did my liberty go?"

Though, if we were living in something closely resembling a totalitarian state, The Interrupters probably wouldn't be out and about singing right-wing protest songs about living in--and rebelling against--a totalitarian state. Being able make some money off of singing about living in a society without liberty kind of proves that there is a fair amount of freedom left in said society, right?

While The Specials explicitly deplored and denounced violence (see "It Doesn't Make It Alright"; also The Selecter's "Celebrate the Bullet" and The Beat's "Two Swords"), "Can't Be Trusted" asserts that you need a gun handy at all times--and to be ready to actually use it--because the government's agents are coming to get you (though it's never exactly spelled out why they'd be pursuing the singer):

"I don't trust no one
under my pillow there's a loaded gun
The CIA, they wanna put me away
The FBI just sent another spy
The FBI, get your hands off me
There's no judge, no jury--Patriot Act took our liberty
They're tapping our phones, breaking down our doors
Waging on the people, it's a civil war and it's a police state
Jefferson's rolling over in his grave
and you can't be trusted
I don't trust no one
under my pillow there's a loaded gun"

It's dogma amongst far right-wingers and Tea Party types that they all need their guns to protect themselves against the US government--and that any and reasonable and sensible attempts at gun control (in a nation plagued by an extraordinary number of gun deaths--you can read a year's worth of horrifying reports on daily gun carnage in the US here) are part of a nefarious plot to take away the very guns from "patriots" who are somehow keeping an oppressive government at bay with those very same guns. Never mind that the Second Amendment was written with the intent of citizens having the right to be armed--with muskets!--in order to serve in militias to protect the newly-formed and vulnerable United States of America--not for Americans to violently overthrow their own government--or even to protect themselves individually. (There are definitely very legitimate concerns about how the NSA is collecting and analyzing the data of all of Americans' phone calls, emails, and internet usage--in the name of fighting terrorism--but the dystopian America she's describing here just isn't anywhere near real.)

I could go on, but you get the picture.

With right-wing politics like these, The Interrupters have no right to claim/subvert/pervert 2 Tone's legacy.

Ska fans, caveat emptor. Know your product.





Friday, August 15, 2014

Duff Review: Le Grand Miercoles "Ghost Cowboys" LP

Liquidator Music/Golden Singles Records
2014
LP (which includes a CD of "Ghost Cowboys" and "This is Surf-Steady")
Available in the USA through Jump Up Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Named after a 1978 cult film by John Milius about a group of California surfers (played by Jan-Michael Vincent, William "Greatest American Hero" Katt, and Gary Busey) in the 1960s as they grapple with the onset of adulthood and the Vietnam War, Le Grand Miercoles ("Big Wednesday") are a Spanish ska supergroup (based in Valencia)-- comprised of members of the Malarians, Dr. Jau, Pataconas, The Offbeaters, and the Golden Singles band, amongst other groups--whose sound, they call it "surf-steady," is a wickedly good mix of Dick Dale-type twangy, Middle Eastern/Eastern European-inspired surf rock (see The Ventures, Link Wray, The Surfaris, The Chantays, and Duane Eddy), late 60s spaghetti Western reggae (see The Upsetters, Bad Manners' Return of the Ugly, and the awesome and essential Trojan compilation For a Few Dollars More: 28 Shots of Western Inspired Reggae), and vintage rocksteady and dub.

Ghost Cowboys is a brilliant instrumental album that features both choice covers and excellent original tracks, which, when given Le Grand Miercoles' surf-steady treatment, blend seamlessly together. The record kicks off with an awesomely dramatic and revved-up version of one of the great rocksteady classics, The Paragons' "Man Next Door" (written by John Holt about an extremely noisy and annoying neighbor), which is retitled here as "I've Got to Surf Away" (which is one way to get away and find some peace...). This is followed by several terrifically evocative songs by various members of Le Grand Miercoles: "Western Standard Time," the mournful "Fukushima" (remember the catastrophic nuclear reactor meltdown there?), and the magnificently cinematic "Cowboy Fantasma." Side one of the album concludes with a dubby version of The Clash's searing "Straight to Hell," which (particularly without the lyrics about American soldiers in Vietnam abandoning their Amerasian children and their mothers when their tour of duty was up--and how the US, for a time, turned its back on these--their sons' own--children) is transformed into a defiantly jaunty, even joyful, track here (this cover was also included on the fantastic 2013 ska/reggae tribute to The Clash from Golden Singles Records, The Clash Goes Jamaican). The spoken word bit towards the end of the song reminds everyone that they can "change anything they want to and that means everything in the world"--and that "people are out there doing bad things to each other, it's as if they've been dehumanized; it's terrible, we have to take the humanity back to the center of the ring and work with that for a time...without people, we're nothing."

Side two kicks off with a superbly edgy and muscular cover of Mel Torme's "Comin' Home Baby" (written by Ben Tucker and first recorded by the Dave Bailey Quintet in 1961; The Skatalites later covered and renamed it as "Christine Keeler"). Torme's version is pretty-bad ass (check it out!), but Le Grand Miercoles' is even more so! "Cecilia Ann" was written by Steve Hoffman and Charles Horton and recorded by Dave Myer and the Surftones in 1964 and much later covered by The Pixies on their Bossanova album. Le Grand Miercoles' take on it starts out with a quick and subtle quote of Henry Mancini's (via Duane Eddy) "Theme from Peter Gunn" and then slides into a sweet one-drop skank, with the lush guitar line washing over it. "Alligator Ye-Ye" is a frisky dance number that you might expect to hear in a campy 1960s beach party or sex farce film (ye-ye was a 1960s French/European style of innocent, yet knowing/sexy, pop). "Caravan Party" has great loping groove (and organ solo)--you can imagine all of the covered wagons making their way across the unforgiving landscape. If you were already familiar with Le Grand Miercoles' surf-steady style, then Chris Isaak's wounded and haunted 1989 hit "Wicked Game" (which became a hit via David Lynch's 1990 "Wild at Heart" film soundtrack) is right in their wheelhouse. The album finishes with "The Rumor," which has a beautiful melody, but also suggests the danger and deceit lurking beneath.

As one might surmise, Ghost Cowboys is essentially the imagined soundtrack for the defiant, but lonely and tightly-wound rebels who are compelled to follow their particular life's path, whether it be on surf board searching for the perfect wave (and girl!) or horseback evading the bad guys/the law through a bleak and hostile environment. And it makes for fantastic listening, even if you're destined for a more conventional existence. While Le Grand Miercoles' killer surf-steady style may not be for diehard ska purists (though they should expand their musical horizons), Ghost Cowboys is a stellar, smoking hot album (with outstanding cover artwork!) that should not be missed. It's certainly one of the best ska albums of 2014.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

NYC Summer 2014 Ska Calendar #15

Scratch scans the skies for signs of...reggae life?
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

The Tribal Seeds, New Kingston, The Expanders

The Knitting Factory
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$18 day of show

+ + + +

Saturday, August 16, 2014 @ 10:30 pm

Beat Brigade, Bikini Carwash, The Purslaines

Arlene's Grocery
95 Stanton Street
New York, NY
$10

+ + + +

Saturday, August 16, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

10 Ft. Ganga Plant, Destroy Babylon

Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey Street
Manhattan, NY
$23.85/18+

+ + + +

Friday, August 22, 2014 @ 7:00 pm and 10:15 pm

The Scofflaws

Northport Town Park (Woodbine Avenue and Main Street)
Free/All ages

and

Beau's Bar
54 Broadway
Greenlawn, NY
Free/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, August 23, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Rocks Off Concert Cruise with The Slackers

Departs from Circle Line Pier 83
West 42nd Street and the West Side Highway
Manhattan
$30/21+

+ + + +

Thursday, August 28, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

The Scofflaws

89 North
89 North Ocean Avenue
Patchogue, NY
Free/21+

+ + + +

Friday, August 29, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

Mrs. Skannotto, Across the Aisle, The Shipwrecks

The Knitting Factory
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$12 day of show

+ + + +

Saturday, September 6, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Inspecter 7, Lion's Law, Step 2 Far

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$15

+ + + +

Thursday, September 11, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

The Scofflaws

Declan Quinn's
227 Fourth Avenue
Bayshore, NY

+ + + +

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
Manhattan, NY
$41.50

+ + + +

Thursday, October 30, 2014

3rd Annual Devils Night w/Mephiskapheles, The Toasters, No Redeeming Social Value, and The Ladrones

Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston Street
Manhattan, NY
Tickets: $23.85 (through this link)
21+


Duff Review: The Specials "Live at the Moonlight Club"

This is not a bootleg.
2 Tone/Chrysalis
2014
Heavyweight 180 gm LP

(Review by Steve Shafer)

In the mid 70s, when I first started buying my own records at around age 9 or 10, information about bands and their releases was oftentimes ridiculously hard to come by in the pre-internet age. We were completely dependent on what was played on the radio (sadly, I was first introduced to Bob Marley via racist/xenophobe Eric Clapton's cover of "I Shot the Sheriff," which was played frequently on WNEW in NYC, instead of any of Marley's own recordings); whatever bits we could glean from the mainstream press when they covered pop music; TV appearances we made sure to catch (like the B-52s on SNL in 1980); word-of-mouth from one's peers (it's how I first found out about the B-52s' debut album); being in the right place and time (I first heard The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" at a middle school dance at a posh girls private school!); and whatever you happened to be lucky enough to come across in a record store.

Things improved considerably in high school (in the first half of the 1980s), when I discovered the brilliant WLIR on the radio dial--which introduced me to the best bands that the New Wave and post-punk era had to offer, including all of the 2 Tone acts--and I could track down copies of Trouser Press (the "bible of alternative rock"), see cool UK New Wave acts on MTV at my friend's apartment (he had cable in Inwood, we didn't), and was able to purchase imported LPs, 12" singles, and band promo posters (like my Echo and the Bunnymen Heaven Up Here poster) at Mad Hatters record store in Yonkers (though a lot of chain stores carried some New Wave, too--I bought The Smiths' Hatful of Hollow--an import, no less!--at Sam Goody's in the Cross County Mall). Despite my increased access to information and media, there was still so much music and so many releases from this time that I never knew about--and only discovered much later through the internet. (Over the past five or so years, my record collection has exploded, as I've been compulsively picking up used copies of LPs and singles from the late 70s and early 80s that either I didn't know existed (!) or didn't have the cash to buy new when they were originally released. As I'm dragged kicking and screaming into my late 40s, I suppose this might be how my middle age crisis is manifesting itself--but I also happen to believe that the New Wave/post-punk era produced some of the greatest music ever recorded!)

A good example of a record that I had no knowledge of until years after its release is The Specials' Live at the Moonlight Club. In 1992, I came across a CD of Live at the Moonlight Club at Tower Records on West 4th Street in Manhattan. It was a pricey import and I assumed that since I had never heard anything about it (and was pretty sure that I already had all of their official albums and didn't remember reading about it in any of the UK skazines) that it must be a bootleg released by someone wanting to cash in on the ska resurgence taking place in the UK, Europe, and in a few years, the USA (little did I know that it really was a legitimate 2 Tone release after being a boot for 20 odd years and one that deserves a proper place in The Specials' discography!).

Even now, in the midst of our glorious digital information age, the complete and true story of the recording remains somewhat unclear. What we do know is that on May 3, 1979--on the eve of the elections that would put the dreaded Margaret Thatcher in power (she was elected, in part, by co-opting the National Front's anti-immigrant language and stance)--The Specials played a phenomenal set at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead, London. Their debut single "Gangsters" (b/w The Selecter's "The Selecter") had just been self-released in March as the debut record on 2 Tone (the first pressing of 5,000 copies was distributed by Rough Trade and, according to George Marshall's "The Two Tone Story," was sold out by May), which Elvis Costello soon declared on Radio 1's Round Table as "one of the best records he'd heard in the last ten years" (according to Specials' bassist Horace Panter in his book "Ska'd For Life") and they'd soon sign directly with Chrysalis in early June for a five-album deal, with an option for eight (and establish 2 Tone essentially as a subsidiary of Chrysalis--but under The Specials' and, to some degree, The Selecter's control, with its own budget and with the option to release up to 10 one-off singles by bands of their choice--the first single, of course, was a re-release of "Gangsters" on 2 Tone/Chrysalis in July). The Specials then recorded their extraordinary debut album that summer with Elvis Costello producing (The Specials LP was released on November 3, 1979). Roy Eldridge, A and R man for Chrysalis, was in the audience for the Live at the Moonlight show and, no doubt, The Specials' performance that night convinced him and, in turn, the execs at Chrysalis that they were very much worth signing and consenting to the unusual (for the time), semi-autonomous deal for 2 Tone Records. (Also in the crowd that night, according to Specials biographer Paul "Willo" Williams in "You're Wondering Now: The Specials from Conception to Reunion," were representatives from Warner Brothers, Island, A and M, and Virgin--as well as Elvis Costello, Chrissie Hynde, and Mick Jagger, who was considering the band for Rolling Stones Records; however, in the end, none of the other labels were willing to consider The Specials' terms for their 2 Tone label.)

Again, according to Panter's book, the bootleg Live at the Moonlight Club came into existence through a planned compilation album of live acts performing at that club (Paul Williams states that it was to be a charity album). The Specials didn't want any of their original material recorded for this comp (they were saving it all for their debut LP), but they had recently incorporated a raucous take on The Pioneers' "Long Shot (Kick De Bucket)" into their set and agreed for it to be recorded by the club (this cover, of course, would eventually be released on the live "Too Much Too Young" EP, on the "Skinhead Symphony" side, which had been recorded live at Tiffany's in Coventry). Decca Studios was right next door to the Moonlight Club, so cables were run from the studio's control room to the stage (which is why this boot sounds unusually good). Instead of one track, The Specials' entire May 3, 1979 set was recorded (and later mixed). The live Moonlight Club compilation never came out, but a bootleg release of The Specials' set did find its way into the shops later that year. Apparently, Live at the Moonlight Club sold as well as The Specials' debut album--and, according to Paul Williams, was sometimes receiving better reviews!

Panter has no insight as to who actually released the bootleg (other than they made an extraordinary amount of money off it) or as to how Chrysalis eventually assumed control over the recording ("I've often wondered how they [Chrysalis] came to get hold of the tapes, and whether anybody was prosecuted for releasing an illegal bootleg. Probably just regular music business business."). However it all occurred, one thing is certain, Chrysalis now owns the recording and isn't shy about protecting it (on the back of the album, it states, "The copyright in this sound recording is owned by Chrysalis Records Ltd.").

Whatever the album's provenance, it documents a phenomenal live performance by The Specials at a point in their career just before they and 2 Tone became white hot in England (and far beyond). And you can hear why the bootleg was so enthusiastically snapped up by fans--it captures The Specials' doing what they do best, bar none: playing live before an amped-up audience (I wouldn't have this great privilege until seeing most of them at their mind-blowingly good NYC show on a pier in the Hudson River in July 2013, but did see some of them during the Special Beat tour of the USA in 1993 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan). While The Specials' brilliant debut studio album is an undeniable classic (and all time favorite album of mine!)--and perhaps it's a wildly unfair comparison--it doesn't quite capture the band's tremendous and thrilling live energy (though this has proven to be a formidable challenge for many a ska band--very few have been able to translate what happens on stage into the studio).

From a historical perspective, it's also amazing to note how absolutely ready the band is to lay down the tracks for their debut. The arrangements of their soon-to-be hit songs are so fully, powerfully, and confidently realized and essentially the same as those that they'll record in a few months in the studio (in two instances, I actually prefer the Moonlight Club versions of the songs to what's on The Specials--listen to "Too Much Too Young," which displays its roots in Lloyd Charmers' "Birth Control" a little more directly and "Nite Klub" has flourishes and textures in the guitar, keyboard, and bass lines that didn't make it onto the studio album). For those of us not fortunate to have been present for the rise of The Specials and 2 Tone, this album provides us with a taste of how magnificent it must have been witness and experience it all. And it's proof positive that The Specials deserved every bit of fame, glory, and praise that was to come their way for the next few (and all too brief) years.

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If you've never heard Live at the Moonlight Club and just can't get enough of The Specials, then this is an essential purchase. And completists will definitely want this awesomely heavyweight vinyl edition with a new cover photo (from what might be a live shot of the band from the Moonlight Club show), though it sports the same (and very good) Adrian Thrills liner notes from the 1992 CD (which, oddly, never refer to the sketchy origins of this release). For me, Live at the Moonlight Club rectifies a long-standing deficit in my musical knowledge (and my record collection) and allows me to re-live a time when listening to a new record by one of your favorite bands was one of the sweetest and most sacred things that you could spend your precious time doing.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

NYC Summer 2014 Ska Calendar #14

Prince Buster: Fly Flying Ska!
Friday, August 1, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

The Bluebeats at Happenings on Main Street

Northport Village Dock
Main Street
Northport, NY
Free/All ages

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Saturday, August 2, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

Rockers Underground, Volume 2 w/Jammyland Roots Ensemble and Crazy Baldhead Sound System w/guest selector Mush One

Bohemian Grove
64 Grove Street (between Bushwick and Evergreen)
Brooklyn, NY
$5/BYOB

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

The Tribal Seeds, New Kingston, The Expanders

The Knitting Factory
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$18 day of show

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Saturday, August 16, 2014 @10:30 pm

Beat Brigade, Bikini Carwash, The Purslaines

Arlene's Grocery
95 Stanton Street
New York, NY
$10

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Saturday, August 23, 2014 @ 7:00 pm
Rocks Off Concert Cruise with The Slackers
Departs from Circle Line Pier 83
West 42nd Street and the West Side Highway
Manhattan
$30/21+

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Friday, August 29, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

Mrs. Skannotto

The Knitting Factory
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$12 day of show

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Saturday, September 6, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Inspecter 7, Lion's Law, Step 2 Far, Beat Brigade

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$15

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

3rd Annual Devils Night w/Mephiskapheles, The Toasters, No Redeeming Social Value, and The Ladrones

Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston Street
Manhattan, NY
Tickets: $23.85 (through this link)
21+

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Friday, July 25, 2014

"Clash of the Ska Legends" Tour w/Bim Skala Bim and King Hammond!

If you're in or near New England in mid-to-late August, you MUST make sure to catch the "Clash of Ska Legends" tour featuring Bim Skala Bim and King Hammond!

For the past several summers, members of Bim have come together from their far-flung homes to play some always-popular gigs in and around Boston and Cape Cod (and for this tour, they're supporting their excellent new album Chet's Last Call--read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here). But this year, Bim is accompanied by the truly great King Hammond (AKA Nick Welsh, ex-Bad Manners, The Selecter, Big 5, Skaville UK, and more), who has released a slew of amazing early 70s-inspired skinhead reggae releases recently, including 22 Bullets from a Rude Boy Gun, the reissue of his classic albums Revolution '70 and Tank Tops and Hot Pants, the 7" single "Skaville Ole," and a series of very limited-edition CDs.

Needless to say, both acts are phenomenally good and have been creating and playing some of the best ska and reggae around since the 1980s! See these legends while you still can!

Bim Skala Bim and King Hammond "Clash of the Ska Legends Tour"

August 14th: Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA (w/Mr. Kowalsky, Malabar, and The New Limits)
August 15th: The Wellfleet Beachcomber, Wellfleet/Cape Cod, MA
August 16th: Hookfest, Portsmouth, NH (w/Lettuce, The Nth Power, Michael Bernier and the Freevolt, and The Spittin' Vinnies)
August 17th: Manchester 65, Warwick RI (w/The Copacetics, Panoramic View, Sweet Babylon)
August 21st: Pelham East, Newport RI
August 22nd: Grumpy, Falmouth, MA
August 23rd: Port City Music Hall, Portland, ME (w/The Beat Horizon, El Grande, Roots Rhythm and Dub)
August 24th: Mine Oysters, Boothbay Harbor, ME

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Duff Review: Dr. Ring Ding and Kingston Rudieska "Ska'n Seoul" EP

Rudie System
2014
CD EP/digital download

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The great Dr. Ring Ding has been a fervent fan of Kingston Rudieska--South Korea's top vintage ska act in the mold and of the calibre of The Skatalites--since he first encountered their track "Oscar Wilde" in 2007 on Pork Pie's Benetton-inspired United Colors of Ska 4.0 compilation.

So when Dr. Ring Ding's Ska-Vaganza was scheduled to appear alongside Kingston Rudieska at the 2013 Jisan World Rock Festival in South Korea, he and Kingston Rudieska--both great admirers of each other's music and musicianship--took advantage of this opportunity to enter the studio to record an EP's worth of material. This brilliant collaboration yielded the cheekily-titled, five-track Ska'n Seoul, which is mostly likely one of the finest traditional ska releases of 2014.

Ska'n Seoul is bookended by the terrifically smooth--but no less desperate, urgent, and tragic--ska-jazz version of Fine Young Cannibals' (ex-Beat members Andy Cox and David Steele with ex-Akrylykz Roland Gift) dark family drama "Johnny Come Home" (originally released in 1985) and its slick deconstruction in "Johnny Come Home (Worried Dub)." Kingston Rudieska shows the love to the good Doctor with a half-English, half-Korean cover of Dr. Ring Ding and the Senior Allstars' "Bad Company" (off the essential Ram di Dance), retitled here as "Discovery of Life," which Kingston Rudieska has included in their live set for for some time now. The traditional African-American spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (which is not just about being shepherded into heaven, but escaping slavery through the Underground Railroad to free states or Canada) is presented as if the musicians were part of a revved-up, ecstatic ska tent revival and Dr. Ring Ding as an Elmer Gantry-like charismatic preacher. The one new tune here, written especially for this occasion, is Dr. Ring Ding's delightful "Your Sweet Kiss" (about how the only thing the singer would miss when he's dead and buried), which is reminiscent of an ace Lord Tanamo or Laurel Aitken collaboration with The Skatalites from back in the day.

If you can get your hands on this CD, do it now (a digital version is available through iTunes and you can mail order the CD through Dr. Ring Ding's website)! You'll want it and even more from this ska supergroup. May we be lucky enough for their paths cross again very soon in the future.

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