Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shots in the Dark: Easy Big Fella - Tasty Bits & Spicy Flicks

Editor's note: Shots in the Dark spotlights third-wave ska releases that should have been massive hits on the scene but, due to bad timing, poor luck, or a fickle record-buying public, were lost in the fray.

The Band: Seattle's Easy Big Fella

The Sound: EBF's heavy horn and keyboard sound was rooted in the 60s ska of The Skatalites (placing them in the same spectrum of traditional 3rd wave ska bands as The Scofflaws, Skavoovie and the Epitones, Dr. Ring Ding and the Senior All-Stars, and The Skalars), but filtered through the eternal sunshine vibe of 1970s AM pop radio and the earnest kitch of Lawrence Welk--think Roland Alphonso and Jackie Mitoo meet the Carpenters and Neil Diamond--check out "It's Friday" or "Gettin' the Mail" and you'll see what I mean.

The Release: One of the most brilliant aspects of this record--apart from the great songwriting and terrific performances--is how Easy Big Fella deliver this ying and yang mix of alternately campy and despondent songs completely straight, with no knowing winks or bitterness, just happy, extremely catchy, upbeat ska tunes. Most of the cuts on Tasty Bits are concerned with enduring the day-to-day grind of soul-numbing jobs just to get by (from "Solace": "Bringing home the bread/Gotta give eight so I can live again") or finding a bit of joy/luck in riding the "Seven" bus to work every day ("On the bus/weirdos entertaining us/Old bag ladies make a fuss/The world is passing by/I don't mind 'cause I don't drive"). No outlandish wishes or dreams here--just celebrating the end of the week with a song as catchy as Todd Rundgren's "Bang the Drum All Day" ("I've put in my day, so give me the night/The weekend's arrived. And we have survived./So raise a pint of stout/And give a Friday shout!/It's Friday! It's Friday!/It's good for you!/and it's good for me"!) or a mail room guy falling for one of the secretaries ("The pay is jack/The boss is a hack/The office life ain't so grand/But what could be better than a night on the town/With the Queen of administrative land?/All I want is a mail truck just built for two/All I want is to just go postal with you"). In essence, adult life kind of sucks, so you've got to find, celebrate, and enjoy the little things in order to keep hauling yourself out of bed in the morning. Not bad advice and Easy Big Fella makes it sound so good here...

The Ugly Reality: Tasty Bits was released on Moon Ska Records in 1999, just as the last nails in the coffin of 3rd wave ska were driven in by Billboard, Alternative Press, and the music industry in general (they helped build the next-big-thing hype for ska for their own purposes--pseudo ska acts--and felt completely justified in tearing it down--for SWING of all things, dammit!--guffawing as they wrote the scene's obit and eulogy). CDs by the thousands were starting to turn up at the Moon warehouse, as record chains, indie stores, and distributors purged their stacks and inventories of anything ska (who can blame them, it was seen as a has-been scene whose CD sales never lived up to all the hype). For a record about enduring crap jobs in order to live a little of one's own life (presumably to be in a band), it's timing would prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy--they weren't going to be able to quit their day jobs to become full-time ska stars.

The Grade: B+/A-


Ska Bob said...

I just made a few videos at EBF's 2011 Seattle reunion show, still sounding excellent.


Steve from Moon said...

Thanks for sharing this, Ska Bob! EBF sound great!