Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Duff Gig Review: The Bluebeats and The Hard Times at the Punky Reggae Fest Day 2/The Forthrights Record Release Party at The Lake!

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The e-mail sent out to The Bluebeats' mailing list in advance of their gig at the Punky Reggae Fest 2 at The Lake advised us not to look for a club, but a metal door with the street number on it--and then to go up the long flight of stairs (which, when we got there, were littered with crushed cans of PBR). If you've never been to this space, it's in a warehouse/industrial section of Brooklyn, about five stops out on the L train from Manhattan (where we--Marc and Steve from Bigger Thomas, their friend Edward, my friend Joe, and yours truly--were coming from). To be honest, if we hadn't seen the guy chugging a beer just before opening The Lake's door, we might have missed it. The street was dark and the area deserted (it turns out we were ridiculously early and amongst the first 20 people there--and since all of us were about 20 freakin' years older than everyone else present, someone commented that we were probably being mistaken for undercover cops at first--until we started downing the $1 Keystone Ice beers!).

What's wild about this underground venue/arts space is that it looks and feels pretty much like the way it was at an illegal loft party/squat back in the 80s (but instead of Williamsburg, it was Manhattan's East Village/Lower East Side)...and the mix of punks (yes, there were impressive mohawks), skins, and everyone else in black was pretty much the same then as now. The black box performance space (which could fit 150--maybe--was up front with a small stage, great sound system, dance floor, and two raised platforms lining part of the room for sitting or standing on. The remainder of the venue consisted of a long, wide hall (just past the kitchen, where they sold beer); a room for lounging in the back; and a door leading to some outdoor metal stairs down to the snowy "backyard."

Agent Jay (Slackers/Crazy Baldhead) was spinning a heady mix of ska, reggae, punk, and hardcore, which primed everyone for the first act up: the awesome New Jersey-based Latino hardcore act Desekilibrio. Their terrific rhythm section consisted of two young women and the band was reminiscent of Black Flag or Metal Circus-era Husker Du (sorry that I don't have as many punk/hardcore bands to reference--not my area of expertise!). Intense frontman Roman sang in Spanish and my friend Joe translated his inter-song comments, which were decrying police brutality, government corruption, the drug trade, and all of the drug cartel-related killings in Mexico. Very powerful stuff.

Up next, after more beers, banter, and great reggae music on pumping outta the sound system (at one point I looked up and saw the excellent DJ Grace of Spades at the turntables--she also suggested hitting the nearby Bushwick Pita Palace for some flautas, which we did on the way home, and they were incredibly good--thanks for the spot-on tip, Grace!) were The Bluebeats, who were stunning, as always. I shot several Flip videos of their performance (all posted below). What's interesting to note about their set was the inclusion of really choice (and sometimes very obscure) covers--they did "Gimme Some," which was a 1977 one hit wonder in the UK for a glam rocker named Brendon Dunning; Gregory Isaacs' "Love Disguise," and Justin Hinds' "Botheration"--and the fact that they played Toots and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop"--a cut that Mike Drance said that they rarely play in NYC (I've never seen them do it). As you can see from the video, it went down really well. The Bluebeats were on fire!

Before The Hard Times hit the stage, I ran into Coolie Ranx and caught up a bit (and should have figured then that he'd be toasting on stage before the evening was through). Due to dumb luck, I'd missed too many chances to see The Hard Times before--so I was psyched to finally catch them and was mightily impressed by their performance. As an instrumental dirty/skinhead reggae outfit, they are amongst the very best (check out their "Ricochet Rocket" video below or the incredible, crescendoing tension in "Samba Snake" before it shifts to a major key)--but they take it to a whole new level when they include guest vocalists: one who wants to remain nameless sang a crazy good version of the Lee "Scratch" Perry/Max Romeo classic "I Chase the Devil" and the aforementioned Coolie Ranx put his excellent imprint on The Hard Times' instrumental "Two Bucks for Bob" (the videos I took are below). The only odd note was the slam dancing that broke out toward the end of the set and threatened to overwhelm everything.

Major apologies to Sammy K. and The Forthrights for splitting before their set (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of their Camp Birdman EP here)...it was getting late and we had to catch the last L train out of Brooklyn. Next time, for sure.

If you're a fan of the ska/rocksteady/reggae scene, it's definitely worth the trip here to catch bands at this awesome underground venue!

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The next Dirty Reggae Party coming up is on Friday, Feb 25, 2011 at The Lake with Kofre, Jah Love & the Valentinians, The Hard Times, and The Rudie Crew (plus DJs Crazy Baldhead and 100 DB's)...more details to come!

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