Sunday, May 19, 2013

Apple Stomp "Ska Brunch," Saturday, June 1st from 1-4pm!

In conjunction with the upcoming two-day Apple Stomp ska festival at Irving Plaza on May 31 and June 1, Electric Avenue (run by Marc Wasserman of Marco on the Bass/Bigger Thomas and yours truly, The Duff Guide to Ska) is holding the Apple Stomp "Ska Brunch" on the afternoon of the second day of the festival.

The Apple Stomp "Ska Brunch" will take place on Saturday, June 1 from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm (before that night's Apple Stomp show with The Slackers, Spring Heeled Jack, MU330, Mephiskapheles, The Pietasters, The Scofflaws, Westbound Train, Thumper, and Bigger Thomas) and features Rude Boy George doing their cool ska covers of New Wave classics (check out several RBG videos on The Duff Guide to Ska YouTube channel) and Selecter Steve spinning a mix of vintage ska, rocksteady, reggae, and New Wave. 

You can find Electric Avenue in the back room at Characters NYC (243 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)--a short subway ride away from Union Square and Irving Plaza. The Apple Stomp Brunch is an all-ages event and the door is a mere $5.00 (all of which goes to the band).

We hope to see you there!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Duff Review/Over the Transom: The Toasters' "House of Soul" single, Dr. Ring Ding's "Kalipso Times" 10", and Solomon Jabby's "Showdown at the Altarsound" single!

Editor's note: In an attempt to catch up on the huge backlog of releases that are awaiting my review--and to counter my obsession with solely composing long, in-depth write-ups (something that I just don't have time to do as much as I'd like to, sadly)--I'm launching this new series of brief, paragraph-length reviews. Titled "Over the Transom," my inside joke with Marc Wasserman about sneaking in ska releases and merchandise to our homes without attracting the attention of our respective wives, these batches of reviews are intended to give props to the many bands still recording and issuing great ska music, as well as alert ska fans as to which releases are worth their hard-earned cash.

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(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

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The Toasters
"House of Soul" b/w "Going Home"
Megalith Records
7" vinyl single w/picture sleeve

While there have been several vinyl LP re-issues of Toasters material on Megalith/Jump Up over the past few years (and the band practically has been on a non-stop tour of the globe), there hasn't been a Toasters release of new material since 2007's One More Bullet (kind of a shock, since I remember the brighter days when each year brought a new Toasters album). This is, no doubt, a reflection of the deleterious impact of illegal file sharing on sales of recorded music rather than an omen of the creative well running dry. To dispel any worries about that, all one has to do is place the needle on The Toasters' "House of Soul" single, a superb new tribute of sorts to Motown, which will sate the cravings of both newbie and long-time fans for Bucket's patented and beloved NYC ska sound. For a musician now based in (and frequently touring) Europe, it's fascinating to note how these songs are (still) so strongly influenced by 60s black American music (and express deep nostalgia for "old time music," "beat up 45s," and music delivered via mono transistor radios and hi fi sets--all of which are okay by me). "House of Soul" ("Take a boat ride down the delta/and a train right down to Atlanta, too/Take a quick trip up to Chicago, Illinois/To find the home of the rhythm and blues") is another of Bucket's ska history tracks--acknowledging the vital roots of Jamaican ska--that could be the companion track to "Chuck Berry" off Hard Band for Dead. "Going Home" is a ska-via-New Orleans musician's road warrior song ("I've met a lot of people/Ugly, good, and bad....I've broken a lot of hearts/but none of them was mine/Now I'm standing at the crossroads/In the middle of the square/I don't know where I'm going/but it feels like I'm almost there/I'm going home to the one who is waiting for me there"). Good stuff. Bucket says that "House of Soul" marks the first of many new singles from The Toasters--here's hoping that in the near future the band takes more breaks from touring to hit the studio to lay down the next batch of killer tunes!

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Dr. Ring Ding
Kalipso Times
Ring Of Fire Records
10" vinyl EP

Packed with more slack double entendres that you could shake at, comes Dr. Ring Ding's Kalipso Times EP (which I was able to mail order through Interpunk in the USA). Anyone paying attention to the ska scene over the past two decades will know that the good Doktor is an extraordinary master of vintage Jamaican ska, but his forays into Trinidadian calypso are equally as magnificent. Side A of this EP features an excellent original tune done inna Mighty Sparrow style called "The Cat and the Rooster" (I'll let you work out what we're really referring to here) concerning the struggle for dominance between men and women. More reggae than calypso, "All Because I Love You" is a rather sweet and straight-forward declaration of love and devotion that was also featured on the recent Dr. Ring Ding Ska-Vaganza CD Piping Hot.  Side B contains a cover of Might Sparrow's deserved 1966 hit "Obeah Wedding" and “The Needle,"a reggae take on Lord Kitchener's “Dr. Kitch" (also a favorite song to cover by the great and late Judge Dread), which is not exactly about syringes and medicinal injections (both of these tracks have previously been available on a Grover single and Jump Up's release of Dr. Ring Ding's Back and Forth CD). It's all pretty hilarious, in good fun, and very well done.

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Solomon Jabby
"Showdown at the Altarsound" b/w "Tone Wheel Express"
Jump Up Records
7" vinyl single

Though known more for his Christian reggae, Solomon Jabby showcases his early reggae instrumental work on these two fine keyboard-centric tracks. "Showdown at the Altarsound" (Altarsound is the name of Jabby's backyard studio, a la Lee Perry's Black Ark) is an energetic organ workout, while "Tone Wheel Express" is a proud, almost strutting track. Fans of The Aggrolites, The Caroloregians, and 2000 Tons of TNT will be more than pleased to have this single in their collection.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Duff Review: "The Clash Goes Jamaican" single featuring "English Civil War" by The Crombies b/w "Clampdown" by Green Room Rockers!

Jump Up Records
7" vinyl single (red, white, or blue)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

In all my many years as a ska fan, I have yet to meet a fellow ska disciple who isn't also a rabid fan of The Clash (probably my all-time favorite band). For many ska fanatics of my generation whose high school years fortuitously coincided with the late 70s and early 80s, The Clash were our formal introduction to--and gateway for exploring--roots reggae (just as the 2 Tone bands led many of us to seek out recordings by the original Jamaican ska musicians from the 60s). While The Clash, obviously, have extraordinary appeal far beyond ska and reggae circles, their love of and reverence for Jamaican ska and reggae shines through on dozens of their tracks ("(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," "Police and Thieves," "Rudie Can't Fail," "Guns of Brixton," "Wrong 'Em Boyo," "Revolution Rock," "Bankrobber," "Pressure Drop," "Armagideon Time," "Justice Tonight/Kick it Over," "The Call Up," "Junco Partner," "The Crooked Beat," "One More Time,""The Equalizer," "Living in Fame," etc.) and is what draws ska fans into their fold and keeps them there for life.

So, it makes sense that there have been a fair number of ska tributes and covers of Clash cuts (King Django's trad ska-via-New Orleans rendition of "Career Opportunities" is stellar--and Skinnerbox's cover of "Straight to Hell" was one of the few bright spots on the mostly dismal punk and ska City Rockers: A Tribute to The Clash from 1999; the Anger Management League's skinhead reggae versions of "London's Burning," "White Riot,""Janie Jones," "Career Opportunities," and "1977" on Clashed by the AML are terrific; and conversely, while we're here, the worst Clash tribute I've had the misery of hearing, again from 1999, is Burning London--there are so many things wrong with it that I don't even know where to begin).

With all this in mind, it shouldn't come as a shock that I'm eagerly anticipating the release of Golden Singles Records' double LP of The Clash Goes Jamaican, which features an international roster of ska bands covering the Only Band That Matters (check out a preview of all songs on the comp here; the complete track list can be found here). While I'm not sure of the release date for this tribute, ska fans of The Clash can immediately satisfy their cravings through Jump Up Records' incredible new The Clash Goes Jamaican colored vinyl single (available in red, white, or blue), featuring The Crombies and Green Room Rockers.

The Crombies' excellent, straight-on modern ska version of "English Civil War" (with a cool, new rocksteady instrumental intro that segues perfectly into the first verse, but doesn't give away the tune's easily recognizable melody) powerfully conveys its lyrical defiance in the face of oppression and dire urgency of this track's message. If you don't already know, "English Civil War's" melody is from the American Civil War-era song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," but Joe Strummer transformed it into an anti-fascist warning--through the imagined takeover of Britain by a totalitarian regime--as he witnessed with great alarm the increasing popularity of the National Front in the UK in the latter half of the 70s (note the reference to George Orwell's "Animal Farm" in the lyrics--"as we watched the speech of an animal scream/the new party army was marching right over our heads"--and on the original single's picture sleeve).

On paper, a ska-soul version of The Clash's furious and righteous punk rock anthem "Clampdown" might seem misguided, but the Green Room Rockers pull this feat off magnificently, largely on the strength and conviction of Mark Cooper's vocals (when he sings "it's the best years of your life they want to steal," it's like he knows from first-hand experience!). On this track Strummer, an avowed socialist, advocates general resistance--even revolution--against the pernicious capitalist system, AKA "The Clampdown," that enriches the few by controlling and brutally exploiting the masses ("No man born with a living soul/Can be working for the clampdown/Kick over the wall, 'cause governments to fall/How can you refuse it?/Let fury have the hour, anger can be power/Do you know that you can use it?"). But "Clampdown" also illustrates someone's gradual acquiescence to the manipulation and propaganda of "the system" ("The men at the factory are old and cunning/You don't owe nothing, so boy get runnin'/It's the best years of your life they want to steal/But you grow up and you calm down and/Working for the clampdown/You start wearing the blue and brown and/Working for the clampdown/So you got someone to boss around/It makes you feel big now/You drift until you brutalize/You made your first kill now"). And throughout the song there are allusions to nationalism, xenophobia, and the Nazis' anti-Semitism that suggest fascism is the political system that the capitalists believe to be the most profitable/advantageous to them ("Taking off his turban, they said, is this man a Jew?/Working for the clampdown/They put up a poster saying we earn more than you/Working for the clampdown/We will teach our twisted speech/To the young believers/We will train our blue-eyed men/To be young believers").

The Clash Goes Jamaican single highlights The Clash's deep connection to the ska scene--and showcases two of midwest America's finest acts in the process--but it also serves as a reminder of how The Clash composed some of the sharpest, most potent, and still painfully relevant rebel protest songs in the history of popular music.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Duff Gig Review: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Dave Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7, The Pandemics at Stage 48 (4/28/13)

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra
Dave Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7
The Pandemics
Stage 48
New York, NY

(Review by Steve Shafer)

I first started reading about Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra in Tower Records' magazine "Pulse" in the very early 1990s--and was incredibly intrigued by this ska band that was gaining so much mainstream attention and had attracted major label backing (Epic), especially at a time when ska was an underground thing, worldwide. And then a few of their releases began showing up in Tower's import bins--mysterious (with psychedelic artwork and Japanese text), tantalizing, and pricey. Since my ska obsession knows no bounds, I picked up many of their available imports (though, to this day, I don't know the titles of some of the TSPO releases I have!) and immediately fell in love with their pumped up, big band, Skatalites-influenced sound.

I had always harbored the hope/fantasy of traveling to Japan to see TSPO there, but my life's plan (so far) hasn't made this possible. During my time at Moon Ska Records, I thought it might happen. I had helped handle the licensing of many of our releases to our Japanese sister label, Moon Ska Tokyo (run by Tachyon Records), and to promote some of the Moon Ska Tokyo releases, Tachyon arranged for several Moon bands to tour in Japan. But the opportunity never arose for me to tag along with any of them.

In the waning days of Moon, sometime in 1999, when everything was starting to crash down on our heads after the mainstream music press and music industry had formally declared ska dead (triggering an avalanche of returned CDs from record stores across the nation), a few representatives from the Japanese major label Avex (who had recently set up TSPO with their own imprint, Justa Records) visited me in New York with the intention of exploring some sort of partnership between Moon and TSPO in the USA. Sadly, Moon was in no condition to launch a new endeavor with TSPO or anyone else (around this time, The Porkers had finally made it over to the States for the Warped Tour and to support their Hot Dog Daiquiri release on Moon, but, in a bit of miserable timing--and much to my horror--Moon's promotion department had been shut down, and I could barely look Pete Porker in the eye when he was in town). Had this meeting taken place just a year or two earlier, a deal between Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (who, no doubt, would have toured the USA in support of any domestic release) and Moon Records might have positioned the label to survive the hard ska times coming at the end of the century...

I did come away from the Avex encounter with some incredible TSPO 7"singles and 12" EPs on Justa Records for my troubles, which hold treasured spots in my record collection to this day.

When Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra played NYC's Central Park Summerstage about eight years ago, for some reason (and much to my regret), I missed it (I must have been out of town). So, when I received an e-mail a few months ago from someone in Chicago who was inquiring about good places to stay in NYC when TSPO plays, I dropped everything I was doing and scrambled to get a ticket (even though TSPO was playing a Sunday night show at a new, non-ska venue) and altered my friend Marc Wasserman (Marco on the Bass/Bigger Thomas) to do the same.

From pictures on its website, Stage 48--located in Hell's Kitchen/Clinton, off 11th Avenue--appeared to be a cavernous space (that typically hosted hip-hop concerts and themed club nights), but it turned out to be a surprisingly intimate space, with a U-shaped balcony over the dance floor. I saw/heard very little about the show ahead of time (where were the preview articles in the local media?), beyond the ticket contest I did via The Duff Guide to Ska and listing the bill in The Duff Guide to Ska NYC ska calendar a few times. So, I had no idea of what to expect.

When Marc and I turned up at the venue, the line waiting to get in was comprised of what I assume were Japanese ex-pats--and they made up about half to two-thirds of the 500+ crowd that eventually assembled inside. The NYC Latin ska scene was well represented, and I spied a cross-section of NYC ska scenesters, including Buford O'Sullivan (ex-Scofflaws, ex-Toasters, Easy Star All-Stars), Ricardo from Los Skarroneros, Skankin' Rich, and "Checkerboard" Phil Dejean.

The Pandemics were up first and compelled the audience to dance to their fun mix of punky and modern ska originals and covers (including The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" and Prince Buster's "Hard Man Fe Dead"). I thought I had a bunch of video shot of The Pandemics from their show at Electric Avenue earlier this year, but it turns out I don't, and apologize to the band for not taking some here!

Dave Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7 (a supergroup of sorts, including Larry McDonald on percussion; Dave Hahn on guitar; and Rich Graiko on trumpet) brought a completely different vibe to the venue with their excellent, laid-back jazzy ska and rocksteady. The group's musicianship and performance were really top-notch, though their extended jams with solos all around let the energy in the room lag a bit at times (to be fair, the fans were craving TSPO's supercharged brand of ska).

Click to enlarge TSPO set list.
From the moment they stormed the stage in their matching, natty suits, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra were nothing short of extraordinary. They were laser focused on entertaining the crowd with their impeccable musical performances of originals and covers, and their hilarious stage antics (the Buster Keaton-ish move of having their trombonist spin around and the musicians on either side of him ducking in order not to be brained by the t-bone slide; or the melodica that has flashing lights embedded in it--see the "Ska Me Crazy" video below). In short, these guys know how to work the fans into an ecstatic frenzy (listen to the lion's roar of the crowd at the end of each video!)--and everyone in the audience devoured it all, since it's a rare thing to experience a ska band of such an extraordinary caliber. I've seen few bands as tight, a blast to watch, and delivering their goods with such brilliance. I pray they come back to NYC soon.

Unfortunately, due to adult responsibilities (it was a Sunday night, with a long, sometimes difficult work week ahead), Marc and I had to jet after about half of TSPO's set (I know--heresy!). I really wished I could have caught more of their show--especially after I saw their complete set list the next day. But what I did hear and see of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra will stay with--and buoy--me for a very long time.