Monday, June 24, 2019

Bim Skala Bim Tours the US Northeast this Summer, Premieres New Song/Video "Gumbo," plus Screenings of "Chet's Last Call"!

Boston's legendary, US ska pioneers Bim Skala Bim are back for their annual summer tour of the Northeast, with shows in Massachusetts, Maine, and upstate New York--see all the dates below (note all of the amazing ska acts opening for them!). Bim's also promoting the new song and video for "Gumbo," which is a fantastic, New Orleans jazz-infused ska track promoting multiculturalism and racial unity through the simple act of people of all races and backgrounds coming together to share food and companionship: "No us and them/Just me and you/and some tasty stew." See the video below.

Bim's singer Dan Vitale is also bigging up screenings of the music documentary "Chet’s Last Call!: A Story of Rock and Redemption" he co-directed with his brother Ted, which is about the long-gone downtown Boston bar/club of the film's title, run by the now departed Richard “Chet” Rooney (watch the trailer for the film here). In the 1980s, Chet's Last Call was the place (like NYC's CBGBs, Max's Kansas City, etc.) for Boston's underground punk, rock, and ska bands (including Bim Skala Bim, The Bosstones, Dropkick Murphys, The Liz Borden Band, Pajama Slave Dancers, and many more) to do their thing. Screenings of "Chet’s Last Call!: A Story of Rock and Redemption" (some of them with Q and As afterwards) are being offered on July 5th at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, MA; July 22nd at the Wellfleet Harbor Actor's Theater in Wellfleet, MA; August 1st at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA and the Once Ballroom in Somerville; and August 2nd at the Record Archives in Rochester, NY (more info on all screenings can be found here).



Bim Skala Bim Summer 2019 Tour Dates!
June 28th Revere, MA @ Oceanside Events Center with Desorden Publico (from Venezuela!)
June 29th Quincy, MA @ Veterans Memorial Stadium (2:30-4:30 pm slot)
June 29th Kingston, MA @ PINZ in Kingston Mass with The Instigators
July 12th Wellfleet, MA @ The Beachcomber with Thumper
July 18th New Bedford, MA @ Vault Music Hall with Void Union, NB Rude Boys
July 19th Portland, ME @ Bayside Bowl with Zeme Libre and Roots, Rhythm and Dub
July 27th Somerville, MA @ Once Ballroom for the New England Ska Summit with Copasetics, Hempsteadys, El Grande, plus special guest Rikki Rocksteady and screening of "Chet's Last Call!: A Story of Rock and Redemption"
Aug 2nd Rochester, NY @ Flour City with Personal Blend and Miggedys Reunion
Aug 3rd Ithaca, NY @ The Haunt with Hub City Stompers and Miggedys

Tickets for any of these shows can be purchased here.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Summer/Fall 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #6

Sticker depicting Nelson Mandela on the cover of The Special AKA's "In The Studio" LPSaturday, June 22, 2019 @ 12:00 pm

Reggay Lords (2 sets!), plus DJ Alexander Orange Drink

Riis Park Beach BazaarJacob Riis Park
within Gateway National Recreation Area
16702 Rockaway Beach Blvd
Queens, NY
Free/All ages

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Chris DeMakes of Less Than Jake, DJ Ryan Midnight

FM Restaurant Bar and Lounge
340 Third Street
Jersey City, NJ
$15

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Vivien Goldman w/Dunia and Aram of Dubistry, Cate Le Bon, Moon Diagrams

Elsewhere
599 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$16-$18 (sold out)
16+

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Thursday, June 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Desorden Publico

Parranda Boat Party
Hornblower Cruises & Events Pier 15
78 South Street
New York, NY
$45

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

King Yellowman w/Sagittarius Band, K'reema

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$22 day of show
All ages

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Thursday, July 18, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Sister Nancy

El Cortez
17 Ingraham Street
Brooklyn, NY
$27.50/21+

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Friday, July 19, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Radicsfest #2 (In memory of Roy Radics of The Rudie Crew; a portion of the proceeds of the show will go to Roy's family.) w/Pilfers, Mephskapheles, Spring Heeled Jack, Hub City Stompers, Rude Boy George, Sgt. Scag.

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$25/16+

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Friday, July 26, 2019 @ 9:00 pm

The Return of Electric Avenue w/Beat Brigade, The Rudie Crew, The Twilights, Barbicide, plus DJ Ryan Midnight

Characters NYC (back room)
243 West 54th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenue)
NYC, NY
Cover: $7 (all of which goes to the bands)
18+

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Saturday, July 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Aggrolites, Mike Pinto

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20/21+

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Saturday, July 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla Presents PrinceLionSound, The Damn Long Hairs, Ska-Walkers, Team, Eye Defy

Desmond's Tavern
433 Park Avenue South
New York, NY
$10/21+

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Friday, August 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Prizefighters, The Pandemics

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Sunday, August 4, 2019 @ 12:00 pm

The Shipwrecks, plus DJ Alexander Orange Drink

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
Jacob Riis Park
within Gateway National Recreation Area
16702 Rockaway Beach Blvd
Queens, NY
Free/All ages

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Friday, August 16, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bedouin Soundclash

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$29.50

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Saturday, August 24, 2019 @ 12:00 pm

Beat Brigade, plus Future Punx DJs

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
Jacob Riis Park
within Gateway National Recreation Area
16702 Rockaway Beach Blvd
Queens, NY
Free/All ages

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NY Ska Jazz Ensemble

Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway
New York, NY
$25/all ages

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Friday, August 30, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Skapones (UK), The Pandemics, Ensemble Calavera, plus DJ Ryan Midnight

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Selecter w/special guest DJ Rhoda Dakar (Bodysnatchers/Special AKA)

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

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Friday, September 20, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Toasters, Beat Brigade, Catbite

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Saturday, September 21, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Lee Scratch Perry and Subatomic Sound System, The Far East, DJ 2Melo

Industry City Courtyard 1/2
(Food Hall Entrance)
238 36th Street,
Brooklyn, NY
$25 in advance/$32 day of show
21+

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Catbite, King Zepha, and The Mad Geezers!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Catbite "Amphetamine Delight" (7" square yellow flexi disc, Bad Time Records, 2019): While awaiting delivery of my mail-ordered copy of their debut album, I received a free copy of Catbite's sweet flexi disc single with another LP I bought (the ACLU-benefit Bad Time Records compilation album The Shape of Ska Punk to Come, to be reviewed soon). Ostensibly about the joys of doing speed (though maybe obliquely it's about the high that comes from being with that special someone?), this wonderfully catchy jolt of ska, pop-punk, power-pop, and rockabilly is completely winning (among their influences they list The Specials, The Exploding Hearts, The Undertones, and Chuck Berry--all of whom you can hear in this track). Props to the label for this cool old-school promo item and to Philly's Catbite for knocking it out of the park with this song.

King Zepha King Zepha's Northern Sound (CD/digital/LP, Happy People Records, 2019): As the title of this album infers, King Zepha's Northern Sound is vintage ska imbued with 1960s American rhythm and blues (see their fantastic cover of Doris Troy's "Just One Look"--which is instantly recognizable to anyone who grew up in the '70s, as this was all over AM radio, in TV ads, and featured on multiple K-Tel comps), along with hearty helpings of '50s rock, big band, Henry Mancini or Neal Hefti-like movie music, and dashes of reggae and dub (fans of Laurel Aitken, The Trojans, Jump with Joey, and Dr. Ring Ding will love this record). All of the tracks are brilliantly heavy on stick-in-your-head melodies and the band (King Zepha on lead vocals, bass guitar, guitar, organ, percussion, tenor and baritone saxes, Joe Love on drums, Adam Richards on double bass, Chris Lloyd on piano, Ric Colley on backing vocals and lead vocals on "Just One Look," Sonny Thornton on backing vocals, Stuart MacDonald on alto sax, Jack Davis on trumpet, Stuart Garside on trombone, Jon Burr on harmonica solos, Al MacSween on organ solos, and George Birkett on guitar solos) is incredibly versatile within this compelling mix of musical genres.

While their music mines retro sounds from yesteryear, the topics of King Zepha's songs address some of today's madness. "Bottom of the Pile" is an anthem of solidarity among the working class, as well as a critique of free market capitalism ("We welcome one and all/Together in this hall/There's room for everyone/Together we are strong/Stick together, all the rank and file/It's fine at the bottom of the pile/It's lonely at the top/But there's a bigger drop/To get there one must climb/On those they've left behind"). In what is clearly pointed commentary on Rupert Murdoch-like right-wing tabloids and their slimy ilk and how they've been weaponized (and not aimed at papers striving to sort out and convey the truth), "Shoot the Messenger" advocates the boycott of the conservative echo-chamber media: "They pit the labourer against the foreigner/They call a traveller a lazy scavenger/They use the newspaper to stir up hate in you/We need a takeover, let's shoot the messenger/Propaganda, fabricated facts/Leading weapons of the ruling class/Just as deadly as a poison gas/So, shoot the messenger."

The completely epic "Mother of All Hangovers" should be your go-to song whenever you find yourself in this inevitably regretful/hellish state. "Let Your Hair Down" is a lovely plea for a good deal more more than the proverbial lowering of one's locks, while "You Let Yourself Go" admonishes the aging rude boy for going to seed, both physically and fashion-wise ("You used to be lean, mean and very, very clean/Now you're chubbier and grubbier than others on the scene"). King Zepha offer their own (not John Holt's) Middle Eastern-tinged ska take on the Ali Baba/"Arabian Nights" myth (which is accompanied by its dub version "Dubfart"). And there are also instrumentals on hand: the swinging jazz of "Tin Man" and the contemplative "Catalunya" (dedicated to that breakaway province from Spain). The album closes with "Grass is Greener," a sweet fantasy (?) about shedding one's dreary, soul-deadening, day-to-day life and going on holiday for good ("Days are longer and the beer is stronger/And the locals are a scream/By the sea, as he escapes reality/Our boy's the cat that finally got the cream"). All in all, this is a tremendously good record that is destined to become a classic of whatever we're labeling this current era of ska.

The Mad Geezers "The Donkey" b/w "The Snake Charmer" (7" vinyl single/digital, Swing-A-Ling/Names You Can Trust, 2019): At first glance, this band of insanely good Los Angeles-based musicians (Oliver Charles on drums, Jason Yates on organ, Dan Ubick on guitar and percussion, and Dave Wilder on bass) have seemingly come out of nowhere to deliver this incredible single. But when you find out that they've worked with De La Soul, Hollie Cook, The Heptones, and The Lions in particular, you realize why they're so far ahead of the pack from the get-go. While The Mad Geezers are heavily influenced by Jackie Mittoo in his brilliant prime--you'd swear that the Geezers' funky reggae cut "The Donkey" was off Showcase--the Lions connection is what makes complete sense (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of their extraordinary 2015 LP Soul Riot). There's a mastery of, and reverence for, reggae and all of the black American music that helped create and shape it over the years--all of which is so clearly evident in The Lions' music. While "The Donkey" is keyboard-centric, "The Snake Charmer" is an hypnotic and loping bass-driven reggae skank, perfect for dancing in the wee hours after partaking in whatever makes your cares temporarily slip away--but beware, the low-end on this track is so heart-thuddingly deep that it just might blow out your speakers if played at top volume.

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Friday, June 7, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Summer/Fall 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #5

Ska on TV!
Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Bluebeats

Hank's Saloon
345 Adams Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Pietasters

Rock Off Concert Cruise
Aboard The Lucille
Boards at 23rd Street and the FDR Drive
Manhattan
$37.50 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Friday, June 14, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Specials

Brooklyn Steel
319 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY
$45 in advance/$50 day of show
16+

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Tuesday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 19, 2019 @ 6:30 pm

Toots and the Maytals w/Selectress Iriela

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$36-$129
21+

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Thursday, June 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Desorden Publico

Parranda Boat Party
Hornblower Cruises & Events Pier 15
78 South Street
New York, NY
$45

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Friday, July 19, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Radicsfest #2 (In memory of Roy Radics of The Rudie Crew; a portion of the proceeds of the show will go to Roy's family.) w/Pilfers, Mephskapheles, Spring Heeled Jack, Hub City Stompers, Rude Boy George, Sgt. Scag.

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$25/16+

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Friday, July 26, 2019 @ 9:00 pm

The Return of Electric Avenue w/Beat Brigade, The Rudie Crew, The Twilights, Barbicide

Characters NYC (back room)
243 West 54th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenue)
NYC, NY
Cover: $7 (all of which goes to the bands)
18+

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Saturday, July 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Aggrolites, Mike Pinto

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20/21+

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Friday, August 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Prizefighters

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Friday, August 16, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bedouin Soundclash

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$29.50

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NY Ska Jazz Ensemble

Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway
New York, NY
$25/all ages

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Friday, August 30, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Skapones (UK)

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Selecter w/special guest DJ Rhoda Dakar (Bodysnatchers/Special AKA)

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

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Friday, September 20, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Toasters, Beat Brigade, Catbite

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Saturday, September 21, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Lee Scratch Perry and Subatomic Sound System, The Far East, DJ 2Melo

Industry City Courtyard 1/2
(Food Hall Entrance)
238 36th Street,
Brooklyn, NY
$25 in advance/$32 day of show
21+

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Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Return of Electric Avenue with Beat Brigade, The Rudie Crew, The Twilights, and Barbicide!


Yep, we're putting on ska shows once again (though not every month like we did previously). All details are in the flyer above. There's great food and drink to be had at Characters and the bands are guaranteed to put on a fantastic show! Plus, it's easy to get there from most parts of the city--the A, B, C, D, E, F, N, Q, R, W, and 1 trains all stop within blocks of the venue...

Come out and support live ska music!

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Prizefighters!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

There sure are some mighty sweet vintage rocksteady and ska sounds on The Prizefighters' superb new album Firewalk (CD/digital/cassette/LP, Prizefighter Sound System/Jump Up Records, 2019), which are clearly influenced by rocksteady greats like Alton Ellis, The Gaylads, The Heptones, Slim Smith, Delroy Wilson, etc. and The Skatalites (though they're a bit more organically raw, like Japan's Ska Flames--see The Prizefighters' boss instrumentals "The Accolade," "Bebop Rocksteady"--an incredible cover of one of Yoko Kanno's soundtrack compositions for the Japanese animated sci-fi TV series "Cowboy Bebop"--"Kashmir Rock" or "Mars Rover," amongst others). But all of this bright music doesn't really mask The Prizefighters' white hot outrage at the increasingly dismal state of affairs in America (they hail from the heartland: Minneapolis, MN). "Temper Running Hot" comments on the police's disgracefully hostile and violent (at times deadly) treatment of black Americans--sung in manner close to a stage whisper, but seething at the injustice of it all: "They only want to chat/with the hammer back/Violence in the street/and the country road/Each breath could be your last/as the sirens flash." "Along for the Ride" calls out people who casually associate with those in racist or fascist groups, but may not be really committed to their twisted cause, with this warning: "Are you on board, or just along for the ride?/Life's too short to choose the wrong side...Oh, you keep such bad company/Either way, you'll have to pay for their crimes."

Then there's The Prizefighters' stellar anti-racist track "Stop Them," which was written in direct response to the white nationalism/supremacy unleashed and supported by the overtly racist policies and messaging of Trump and his wretched administration--and, as the band puts it, is "less a protest song and more a call to action" for all good people to unite and collectively counter this bigotry and hatred of everyone not white, Christian, right-wing, and male. "Stop Them" is the ideal fusion of relevant socio-political message with move-your-body music (and very much in the tradition of 2 Tone). This cut is super-sing along-catchy and rightfully uncompromising in its anti-racist/fascist stance, much like The Special AKA's "Racist Friend" or Linton Kwesi Johnson's "Fite Dem Back." Check out these lyrics (which ding both Trump and his daddy's beloved Klan):

Now the fascists are back in town
Marching through our streets
Now their jester wears the crown
They keep popping up like weeds
We've gotta put them back in the ground
And hang out their sheets
They will never never never stop
Until we stop-a stop-a stop-a stop-a stop them


On a more uplifting note, album opener "Just Let the Music Play" encourages unity--both racial and economic (as in trade unions)--and doing what you can to enjoy life, stay inspired, and survive in an unforgivingly dog-eat-dog, Ayn Rand-ian capitalist society ("We'll stand united, there's nothing we can't do/We'll keep on fighting and aways will stay true"). While the album closes with "Firewalk," whose lyrics--"When the ground gets too hot/You must do the firewalk--suggests that these dark days are a trial by fire of sorts, a test of one's faith, fortitude, and courage. How we behave towards our fellow human beings and the tough choices we make under duress will reveal our true moral character, forge bonds between people of good will, and shape how one's life will be evaluated come judgment day.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

MOJO Remembers Ranking Roger

Beat fans should take note that the June 2019 issue of MOJO contains a wonderful tribute by Lois Wilson to the late and sorely missed Ranking Roger. Click on the image below to read/enlarge the article.


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In case you haven't read it, The Duff Guide to Ska posted a remembrance of Roger back in March.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Frightnrs, NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

"Make Up Your Mind" b/w "Make Up Dub" (7" picture disc, Mad Decent, 2019) is the second physical release mined from The Frightnrs' excellent 2015 digital-only Inna Lovers Quarrel EP (the other 7" single was "Sharon" b/w "Admiration"). This ace rocksteady cut and its dub version (perfectly captured--as always--with an early '80s Henry "Junjo" Lawes-like production by Ticklah) features the singer frustratedly pleading with his lady to send a clear message as to where things are (or aren't) heading: "Make up your mind/Please don't leave me hanging on/Because you're fine/You know my love for you is so strong." Viewed through the lens or strobe light of a smart phone, this instantly collectible picture disc produces a pretty cool zoetropic visual effect as it spins on your turntable, but the main attraction here is the great music and the late Dan Klein's honeyed voice.

NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble's Break Thru (CD/digital, Brixton Records/Ska-Jazz Productions, 2019) is the 14th studio album from this Third Wave-era powerhouse led by Fred Reiter on sax/vocals with Mark Damon on bass/t-bone, Kevin Batchelor on trumpet, Joey Gallo on drums, Simone Amodeo on guitar, and Andrea Ferraro on keys. As always, NYSJE works wonders within the sweet spot between American jazz and Jamaican ska originally forged by The Skatalites well over 50 years ago. Break Thru sports terrific, mostly instrumental originals; three covers; and truly incredible musicianship throughout. The more ska-leaning tracks include the infectious, smile-inducing "Chicky Chicky Boom Boom," the frantic "Bopicana," the hard driving "Blowout," and the sung title track, which is part global travelogue of places the band has toured blended with words of encouragement for the fans. The cuts "Freddie's Bounce" (swinging trad jazz) and "Subliminal Seductions" (funky and rocking) permit the band members to show off their considerable jazz chops. While NYSJE's cover of the well-trod "Perfidia" and revisit of Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Love and Affection" (first covered by NYSJE back in 1998 for Moon Ska Records' Love and Affection: Ska in the Key of Love compilation) are quite good (love the harmonizing!), it's their surprisingly vulnerable and affecting version of Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" that might leave the listener with a lump in their throat.

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Spring/Summer 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #4

Caption: Members of The Bodysnatchers performing.
Friday, May 10, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Mephiskapheles, The Press, The Take, Sewer Skrewer, Gilipollas

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$20 day of show
16+

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Friday, May 17, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Big Tunes (potential set list includes "Married Girl," "Sarah," "Rude and Reckless," and more; go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with The Hempsteadys, The Fad, DJ Rata

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Saturday, May 18, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Love and War (potential set list includes "Red Light," "Feed My Girl," "International War Criminal," and more; Go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with Westbound Train, The Scotch Bonnets, DJ Miss Haps

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Saturday, May 18, 2019 @ 10:00 pm

Dubistry

Shrine
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd
New York, NY
No cover

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Sunday, May 19, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Deep Cuts (potential set list includes "Stars," "Sing Your Song," "Contemplation," and more; go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with The Far East, Ensemble Calaveras, DJ One Hundred Decibels

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$18 in advance/$22 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Friday, May 31, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville Presents: The Pandemics, Sgt. Scagnetti, The Twilights, Fink's Constant w/DJ Ryan Midnight

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
New York, NY
No cover (but bring cash for tip bucket!)/21+

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Friday, May 31, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Full-Watts Band w/selector President Carter

C'mon Everybody
325 Franklin Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Saturday, June 1, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7

Hank's Saloon
345 Adams Street
Brooklyn, NY
$8 in advance/$12 day of show
21+

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019 @ 10:30 pm

Fishbone, Dumpstaphunk, Miss Velvet and The Blue Wolf

Sony Hall
235 West 46th Street
New York, NY
$25-$60

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Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Bluebeats

Hank's Saloon
345 Adams Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Pietasters

Rock Off Concert Cruise
Aboard The Lucille
Boards at 23rd Street and the FDR Drive
Manhattan
$37.50 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Friday, June 14, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Specials

Brooklyn Steel
319 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY
$45 in advance/$50 day of show
16+

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Tuesday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 19, 2019 @ 6:30 pm

Toots and the Maytals w/Selectress Iriela

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$36-$129
21+

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Thursday, June 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Desorden Publico

Parranda Boat Party
Hornblower Cruises & Events Pier 15
78 South Street
New York, NY
$45

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Friday, July 19, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Radicsfest #2 (In memory of Roy Radics of The Rudie Crew; a portion of the proceeds of the show will go to Roy's family.) w/Pilfers, Mephskapheles, Spring Heeled Jack, Hub City Stompers, Rude Boy George, Sgt. Scag.

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$25/16+

+ + + +

Friday, July 26, 2019 @ 9:00 pm

The Return of Electric Avenue w/Beat Brigade, The Rudie Crew, The Twilights, Barbicide

Characters NYC (back room)
243 West 54th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenue)
NYC, NY
Cover: $7 (all of which goes to the bands)
18+

+ + + +

Saturday, July 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Aggrolites, Mike Pinto

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20/21+

+ + + +

Friday, August 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Prizefighters

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

+ + + +

Friday, August 16, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bedouin Soundclash

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$29.50

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NY Ska Jazz Ensemble

Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway
New York, NY
$25/all ages

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Friday, August 30, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Skapones (UK)

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Selecter w/special guest DJ Rhoda Dakar (Bodysnatchers/Special AKA)

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

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Friday, September 20, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Toasters, Beat Brigade, Catbite

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Saturday, September 21, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Lee Scratch Perry and Subatomic Sound System, The Far East, DJ 2Melo

Industry City Courtyard 1/2
(Food Hall Entrance)
238 36th Street,
Brooklyn, NY
$25 in advance/$32 day of show
21+

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: K-Man and The 45s and Pama International!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

I've been hearing really good things about Montreal's K-Man and The 45s for several years now (mostly in relation to the annual Montreal Ska Festival), so it's great to finally have a chance to review a new record from these ska/rock 'n' rollers (who veer into reggae, punk, even '80s hardcore--see the excellent, fiercely anti-heroin track "Don't Touch It"). Stand with the Youth (CD/digital/LP, Stomp Records, 2019) is K-Man and The 45s' dynamite fourth album (if you include their CD of ska covers of Ramones tunes) and its title track was written and recorded in response to the activism of the student survivors of the horrific Parkland school shooting and their allied peers who are organizing and advocating for sensible gun control laws in the US to help prevent future mass shootings, which continue to occur with alarming (yet increasingly numbing) frequency. K-Man and The 45s firmly side with the kids in this righteous cause: "We got a bullied young boy who wants to shoot it up/Then we watch it on the news how he went and lit it up/And now the youth of the nation ain’t giving it up/Because they’re fighting for their freedom and ain’t never going to stop." "Hooligans" pushes back against the gentrifying real estate developers ("goons with clipboards") who destroy vital and funky neighborhoods/communities for greed; the hard rocking "Paranoid Panic" is about succumbing to the fear created by the never-ending barrage of sensationalized crime stories in the media ("Another drive by on the news tonight/Seems like the neighborhood is one big fight/It’s a revved up panic that’s pushing her through the night"); and "Free to Go" encourages a woman to leave her physically abusive partner. But it's not all grim. The ridiculously catchy--and best cut on the album--"I've Got a Minute" ("...I want to waste it with you") is about working up the nerve to ask her out. "Hero with a Death Ray" is an homage to Cold War-era TV sci-fi characters like Flash Gordon or Captain Kirk ("Flying around going to slingshot in deep space/Hyper drive winning at the space race/Pick up the trophy, kiss the girl/Then he sets off to save the world." And the reggae track "Cooking Out the Pans" is concerned with nothing but the simple pleasures of hanging out on a beach, eating fish, smoking weed, and listening to live music. Anyone itching for a new Toasters record should absolutely grab this--most of the fantastic horn lines and arrangements sound like they could have been written by Bucket himself (and both bands share an admiration for '60s ska influencer Chuck Berry; on this record, K-Man and The 45s deliver a cool ska cover of "Never Can Tell"...).

Temporarily shedding their ska and reggae to fully explore the "altruistic soul" aspect of their sound, Pama International's Stop the War on the Poor (CD/digital/LP, Happy People Records, 2019) is a spectacular concept album of sorts, full of Motown and Stax-like songs by Sean Flowerdew and Lenny Bignell about love in all its forms--romantic love between people; the spiritual/moral love in forgiveness and redemption; and the love expressed through compassion and empathy for your fellow human being. Cara Jane Murphy and Jewels Vass split the vocal duties here (sides A and B, respectively) and both are are nothing short of amazing. Top cuts here include the Birmingham gospel/soul of "Get Up Off Your Knees" ("Lord he dared me/Raised my heart and compared me/To something he had trod in/Spreading disease/To my shame/I played him at his own game/Lord, get me off my knees"); the Detroit soul of the wonderfully named "Sure You Know the Price (But Do You Know the Cost)," which asks if you're willing to go all in--being vulnerable and risking hurt and more--for who you love ("I put myself in your heart/For all the good it did/Failed to understand/All that you kept hid/What's the use in worrying/If you never doubt/You get all that you give out"); the magnificent "Stop the War on the Poor" pleads for our collective focus to turn towards the corruption and criminality of the rich and powerful (who have rigged the system in their favor at the expense of everyone else) that is largely being ignored while the indigent are blamed for society's ills and punished/humiliated for their own supposed moral failings for not being materially successful; a great Temptations-like cover of Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful To Me"; and "I Love You (Wake Up)," which conveys sweetly intense longing and loneliness ("Four o'clock/Still awake/Waiting for/the day to break/Where are you?/Lying in silence/Deafened still/Don't want to spend/Another night/without you"). I'm not an expert on soul, but--damn--I know brilliant music when I hear it and Pama International's Stop the War on the Poor is it! All CDs and LPs come with an additional, free CD to share the musical love with friends, family, or strangers on the street!

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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: 2019 RSD Releases from Lee "Scratch" Perry, Madness, and The Specials

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Of course, the unexpected is what one should always expect from Lee "Scratch" Perry and his new 2019 Record Store Day single "Big Ben Rock (Woodie Taylor Remix)" (Translucent green 7" picture sleeve single, Where It's At Is Where You Are, 2019) proves that truism for the billionth time. Drummer-producer-reggae fan Woodie Taylor (Daleks, Meteors, Morrissey) had been invited by Mad Professor to play on a Lee Perry track he was recording at his Ariwa studio and when it became apparent that it wouldn't be completed, Taylor asked if he could have a go at it and this is the pretty spectacular result. Taylor enlisted guitarist/saxophonist Boz Boorer (Polecats, Morrissey), bassist Jonny Bridgwood (Marianne Faithful, Morrissey), and keyboardist Anthony Miller (Data, Friday Club--yes, the soul/jazz band that released one Jerry Dammers-produced single for 2 Tone) to create a phenomenally hard-driving, drag racing, proto-punk, rockabilly, spaghetti Western mash up with Perry exhorting the listener to "Rock, rock/Like a Big Ben clock," amongst other things. Actual Big Ben sounds included. The b side contains the electro-percussive-dub instrumental "Steady" and a deliciously raw cover of Jacques Dutronc's 1967 garage rock single "J'ai Tout Lu" ("I read everything/Saw everything/Drank everything"). This single is hard to find, but completely worth the effort (I ordered mine from a record shop in Italy).

Somehow, I was able to track down a list price copy of Madness' "One Step Beyond" shaped picture disc (Union Square Music/BMG, 2019) and avoid the outrageous second hand market, where copies of this were selling at two to three times its original price (only 1,500 copies were released worldwide for Record Store Day). Of course, I have this track in multiple formats already, but this really is a pretty cool 40th anniversary collector's item. It features the iconic photo of Madness doing their Nutty Train from the cover of their 1979 debut album--and there are four versions of this classic Prince Buster song: the 2009 remastered version, the 7" single cut, a version in Spanish, and another in Italian. Also, it's listed as a 7" single--but it's more the size of a 10" record. It goes without saying that the song sounds just as amazing today as it did when it was released all of those years ago.

Given the very pointed socio-political messages in their new album Encore (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it), it's hard not to read into the choice of tracks for The Specials' powerful RSD single, "10 Commandments" featuring Saffiyah Khan b/w "You're Wondering Now" with Amy Winehouse, recorded live at the V Festival in 2009 (7" vinyl single, Island/Universal Music Group, 2019). Pairing Khan's fiercely feminist response to Prince Buster's wildly misogynistic original and the warning that retribution/punishment for your sins/offenses is forthcoming on the flip side ("You're wondering how you will pay/For the way you did behave") casts this single as a strong #MeToo movement statement. (It's fantastic how a song's meaning can shift/be open to multiple interpretations; for years, I've thought that the version of this cover on The Specials' debut was directed at British racists/fascists for their despicable abuse of and assaults on black Britons and immigrants from England's former colonies: "Knock, knock, knock/You can't come in.") Bootleg vinyl releases of The Specials/Amy Winehouse cut (and other Specials and Special AKA songs she's covered live) have been circulating for the past decade, so it's about time this received a proper release.

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Dennis Bovell, Daytoner, JonnyGo Figure, Prince Fatty and Earl 16

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Even though I saw "Babylon" weeks ago at its ridiculously long-delayed US premiere at BAM (the film was originally released in the UK in 1980, but not shown in America, presumably because its black protagonists sometimes respond to racial oppression/abuse from white people/institutions with violence), images and scenes from the movie continue to haunt me. While its plot is fairly straightforward ("Babylon" follows a group of working class black friends/musicians who run a sound system and are subjected to racist abuse from just about everyone--bosses, neighbors, and the police), it has a stark realism to it--between being shot on location in run-down Brixton (often in difficult-to-film low-lighting conditions, but somehow always maintaining visual crispness and its warm and vivid color tones); the depiction of the ubiquitous societal/institutional racism freely expressed toward black Britons circa '79/'80; great, funny dialogue (with lots of Jamaican slang--which was subtitled); and the spot-on, relaxed performances by all involved, it could almost be a documentary. And, of course, the film's hard-to-find soundtrack is outstanding (with Yabby U, I-Roy, Cassandra, Aswad, Vin Gordon, Michael Rose, Dennis Bovell, and more; also, the film's protagonist Blue is played by Aswad's Brinsley Forde and a rival sound system DJ is Jah Shaka). Before I caught the film, I tracked down a German copy of Babylon in decent shape that wasn't too costly. Side two, in particular is stellar and happens to contain the two Aswad and three Dennis Bovell cuts. But the official Babylon OST (vinyl LP, Chrysalis Records, 1980) doesn't contain all of Bovell's music for the film. So, in conjunction with the US premiere/release of the movie, Dennis Bovell issued the nine-track digital album Babylon: The Original Score (Old School, 2019) containing the entire score he wrote and recorded for this soundtrack (including six songs that did not appear on the 1980 Chrysalis LP). It goes without saying that all of these tracks are excellent and heard in snippets in the film (Bovell is a master of catchy melody and mixes/shifts between musical genres with ease), but I'm particularly grateful to have the ska cut "Runnin' Away" (featured during the dance scene at Lovers' engagement party in the church hall and sounding like one of the '50s rock/rhythm and blues-influenced tracks Laurel Aitken would have released in the early '60s); the funky, strutting "School Skanking" (check out that harmonica!); and the righteous roots reggae of "Living in Babylon" (a clear-eyed recounting of the brutal challenges of being black and poor in racist Ingland). Needless to say, this album is essential and absolutely deserving of being issued on vinyl someday (please!).

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Daytoner's terrific versions of Marcia Griffiths' "Feel Like Jumping" and Phyllis Dillon's "Perfidia," which they've retitled "Perfidious" (7" vinyl single, Friday's Funky 45/Cabin Pressure, 2019); I found a copy at Rock and Soul in Manhattan) inject just the right amount of early '90s hip hop/De La Soul-like beats and samples so as to give these ska and rocksteady classics new life. And they're sure to draw new fans to the dance floor without alienating the ska faithful.

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Brooklyn-based reggae singer/DJ JonnyGo Figure (who's also a member of Megative and has collaborated with The Frightnrs and Full Watts Band) has released an excellent EP of early '80s sounding roots reggae and dancehall (that one could imagine being issued on Greensleeves, circa 1982) called Crucial Showcase (12" vinyl/digital, Bent Backs Records, 2019). On the Yellowman-ish "Vinyl Lover," JonnyGo Figure speaks to his real-life obsession with records and how that came to be ("Mi love vinyl and mi play it fe fun/Mi love vinyl and I never have a gun"). The rootsy "Natty Take Over" is about discovering and embracing Rastafarianism ("Mr. Babylon to move over/This a Natty Dreadlocks take over/When I was a boy they used to say I'd amount to nothing/But now I'm a man they're starting to see that I am something/Look out, look out, Natty taking over..."). He's ready to join with his peers to fighting for a more equal and just society in "Revolutionary Youth": "I tell ya, stand up! Stand up!/Strap up on de Armagideon boot/The time now, we have to recruit/Come on, we chant it, chant it/Come on and let we seek de truth/If you ready, let me see you salute/I'm a revolutionist...Time to start a revolution, boy/'Cause that's the only solution, boy." And knowledge of one's own mortality looms large in "Jam It Up"--there's an expiration date on all of us, so it's best to live a righteous life full of joy in His music: "One day I'll die, no matter what me say/You know, say papa Jah, he the only way I say, so/Come on let me play a Jah Jah music/Let me jam it up..." There's much to ponder while grooving to JonnyGo Figure's seriously good music.

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Released for Record Store Day 2019, Prince Fatty and Earl 16's "Be Thankful for What You've Got" b/w "Be Thankful Dub" (7" vinyl single, Evergreen Records, 2019) is a cover of William DeVaughn's 1974 smash soul hit, which was also covered by Bunny Clarke in 1974, Winston Curtis in 1984, Massive Attack in 1993, as well as sampled by numerous hip hop artists. The song's brilliant lyrics have been perennially popular for their depiction of aspirational cool in the face of deprivation (and, no doubt, for evoking a particular era--I remember seeing this exact model of Cadillac in the Bronx in the '70s):

Just be thankful for what you've got
You may not have a great big Cadillac
Diamond in the back, sunroof top
Diggin' the scene
With a gangsta lean
Gangsta whitewalls
TV antennas in the back

You may not have a car at all
But remember brothers and sisters
You can still stand tall

Just be thankful for what you've got

This spectacular version features a bright and brisk reggae beat (plus a few laser effects) that contrasts wonderfully with Earl 16's beautiful but bittersweet vocals about proudly hanging tough in tough times. The harmonizing on the chorus is incredible, lightly conveying the sadness/loss in all that could have been if things only worked out another way. Apparently, the reason Prince Fatty and Earl 16 decided to record it was because they discovered it was a favorite of both of theirs--and it shows in this gorgeously constructed track and its fantastic companion dub.

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Duff Review: Various Artists "Max's SKAnsas City"

Jungle Records/Max's Kansas City Records
Clear vinyl LP
2019

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Like CBGBs, Max's Kansas City--which was located at Park Avenue South between 17th and 18th Streets in Manhattan--was one of the key NYC venues that lent crucial support to the nascent mid-to-late '70s punk scene that spawned The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, the Heartbreakers, Television, the Patti Smith Group, Suicide, and many more. From the mid-'60s through the early '70s, Max's had been the hip nightspot for artists (Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Roy Lichtenstein, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Robert Mapplethorpe, and many more), writers (William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Germaine Greer, etc.), Andy Warhol and anyone in his orbit (including The Velvet Underground), and musicians who liked to hang out and perform there--particularly those from the glam rock scene (Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, Wayne County, and others). Notably, Bob Marley and the Wailers opened for Bruce Springsteen in 1973! However, by the end of 1974, the club had lost its cachet and closed. A renovated Max's Kansas City re-opened in 1975, with Peter Crowley, who had been poached from CBs, hired to book acts. Crowley continued to showcase the aforementioned punk bands that he featured at Hilly's club (Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, et al), as well as other acts like The B-52s, Devo, The Damned, The Runaways, Misfits, Cramps, even Sid Vicious, before it all ended badly for him and Nancy.

According to the terrific liner notes to Max's SKAnsas City by Marc Wasserman (Marco on the Bass blog, Ska Boom: An Oral History of the Birth of American Ska and Reggae), Crowley became a huge reggae fan after seeing the movie The Harder They Come and started booking a regular Sunday reggae night that attracted a solid following of mostly new wave fans. In 1978, he encountered The Terrorists, a ska/reggae band comprised of white, suburban kids from New Jersey who so impressed Crowley that they become a mainstay at Max's. Dro, The Terrorists' drummer, happened to be friends with Roland Alphonso's son Noel and met The Skatalite during one of Noel's band's rehearsals. Alphonso had suffered a stroke a few years previously, so hadn't been playing his sax, but later on Dro caught a recovered Alphonso performing onstage with his son's band Jah Malla (and no one in the crowd recognized who he was except for Dro) and asked him if he'd like to play with The Terrorists at Max's Kansas City.

In the spring of 1979, The Terrorists opened for Alphonso and backed him during his set. It all goes down so well that Crowley asked them if they'd like to record two 12" EPs (one for The Terrorists, the other Roland Alphonso backed by The Terrorists) for the Max's Kansas City record label. With Crowley producing, Alphonso with The Terrorists record five of The Skatalite's well-known originals and then The Terrorists record seven tracks, one original and several judicious covers.

By 1980, The Offs, who performed an almost unclassifiable mix of punk, ska/reggae, and no wave jazz and had released two singles in 1978, had begun splitting their time between their home-base of San Francisco and Soho in Manhattan. Of course, they performed at Max's Kansas City (Crowley was friends with The Offs' guitarist) and were invited by Crowley to record four tracks--two for a Max's Kansas City single and the others to be released by the band.

Later that year, Max's Kansas City Records released The Offs' "You Fascinate Me" b/w "My World" and Terrorists' "Riis Park" b/w "Justice" singles, but the label soon goes under--leaving the Alphonso and other Terrorist tracks on the shelf, unreleased. (The Terrorists go on to release a terrific 12" single in 1981 with Lee "Scratch" Perry: "Love Is Better Now" b/w "Guerrilla Priest"; and by 1983, The Offs have recorded their extraordinary debut album First Record, which is released the following year--read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here).

Max's SKAnsas City collects all of the Roland Alphonso, Terrorist, and Offs recordings for the label (some never before released, like all of The Terrorists' covers, The Offs' "Easier Said Than Done," and a few of the Roland Alphonso tracks--several other Alphonso tracks here were also released on ROIR's Terrorist compilation Forces 1977-1982 in 2001). But it also provides the listener with a fascinating glimpse into the mini-ska/reggae scene in New York City that had developed organically with the same 1960s ska influences and roughly along the same time line as those in London, Coventry, and Birmingham (though those 2 Tone bands would have a much more significant impact).

The Alphonso/Terrorist tracks on Max's SKAnsas City are particularly striking--and one could credibly claim that they're amongst some of the best recordings of these tunes. Alphonso is in really fine form here, playing spritely riffs as he improvises on classic Skatalites tracks like "Sax Skandal" (AKA "Christine Keeler"), "Tear Up," "Musical Resurrection," and "Four Corners." Without any competing horns, it's a wonderful showcase of his considerable talents. The Terrorists' masterful backing is tight and lively (the rhythm section is amazing); they had the chops and then some! For someone who typically worked with punk bands, Crowley's production gives these recordings a wonderful warmth and immediacy; had these recordings not been shelved, I suspect he would have been much sought out by other ska and reggae acts.

The Terrorists on their own (with punk singer John Collins on vocals) preferred their recordings to a bit rougher and their ska-reggae sound/attitude adjusted slightly for the punk/new wave times. This comp features their great original track "Riis Park" (about the infamous and unsanctioned nude beach there) and excellent versions of The Tennors' "Pressure and Slide," Delroy Wilson's "I Want Justice," Hopeton Lewis' "Take It Easy," a haunting take of Junior Byles' "Fade Away, " as well as some ska covers of rhythm and blues hits, like Allen Toussaint's "Working in a Coalmine," and Roy Head's "Treat Her Right."

Of all the bands on the comp, The Offs receive relative short shrift here, due to how this all played out back in 1980. This early ska/funk version of "You Fascinate Me" (about watching young street hustlers ply their trade) pales in contrast with the second take of this cut on First Record, which is more ragged and demented and just plain better. "My World" is a solid punky ska cut, though the demo-sounding "Easier Said Than Done" would have been amazing in a more finished form. (According to the liner notes, Crowley and The Offs were pilloried by punks for making the band sound over-produced on their Max's Kansas City single--though Crowley said he faithfully captured the sound of the band as they were on stage.)

By the early 1980s, both The Offs and Terrorists had disbanded (The Offs' singer Don Vinyl overdosed in 1983), though Roland Alphonso would reunite occasionally with The Skatalites for the first half of the 1980s (like for the 1983 Reggae Sunsplash). A second generation of Big Apple ska bands would soon crop up--though these were primarily influenced by 2 Tone, not by what had come before on the NYC scene. UK ex-pat Rob "Bucket" Hingley formed The Toasters in 1981 and in the following years the NYC public high schools yielded a slew of dynamic new ska bands, including Beat Brigade, Urban Blight, the Second Step, City Beat, the A-Kings, and others. A more permanent reunion for Alphonso and his fellow Skatalites would come after Cedric "King" Bravo (another JA ex-pat, sometime record producer, Canal Street ska and reggae record vendor--where he first encounters The Toasters' Unity 2--and Skatalites associate) brought The Skatalites' Lloyd Knibb and Ken Stewart to see The Toasters play at CBGBs in 1986, which convinced them that it was viable to begin touring and recording again (and The Skatalites, of course, went on to have great success on the road and in the studio throughout the 1990s and 2000s).

Anyone interested in the origins and development of the U.S. ska scene will find Max's SKAnsas City to be an invaluable and essential part of their record collection.

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Duff Review: UB40 "For the Many"

Shoestring Productions/Absolute/
Universal/Sony
CD/2xCD/LP
2019

(Review by Steve Shafer)

"Whatever Happened to UB40?" is one of the song names on UB40's stellar new album For the Many that immediately jumps out when you scan the album's tracklist--and for a band that's achieved such incredible success, only to go through what seemed like an ugly, slow-motion slide into oblivion, it's a vital question for the band to address. For those only casually following all the drama, a quick recap of the last decade's worth of messy band history is in order. Prior to the recording and release of their TwentyFourSeven album in 2008, singer Ali Campbell and keyboardist Mickey Virtue split with the band (toaster Astro joined them later), amidst accusations of all sorts of business/financial mismanagement (though for a period before to his departure, Ali apparently had convinced the band's financial manager to pay him more than the rest of the band, despite the band's long-standing agreement that they were all to be paid equally; when this came to light, Ali left UB40).

Unfortunately, there were some very real and dire money issues at UB40's label and management firm DEP International that were exacerbated by the band split and subsequent loss of income. Several, but not all, of the remaining members of UB40 were declared bankrupt in 2011 after DEP International failed; as a result, much of their back catalogue was sold off to pay off taxes owed to the government; notably, it was revealed a year later that Ali Campbell also had been declared bankrupt by the courts (an embarrassing revelation, as he had been pointing to his former bandmates' bankruptcy as proof of his wisdom to leave the band).

More recently, there have been two versions of the band touring and releasing more Labor of Love-type cover albums (which has led to lawsuits over who has rights to the band name). I've seen each permutation of UB40 and while both were quite good live, I was a bit disappointed that UB40 featuring Ali, Mickey, and Astro focused almost exclusively on their pop hit covers, while UB40 (with brother Duncan Campbell more than ably taking on vocals) performed a mix of their own fantastic songs along with some of their famous covers--and I much preferred the latter.

Fans who have been longing for more than "Red Red Wine" and "Cherry Oh Baby"-like mining of reggae's incredible canon--not that I'm knocking them, Labor of Love was my intro to the band back in 1983--(or their recent album of reggae country covers, Getting Over the Storm) will be thrilled to find that UB40's For the Many consists of almost exclusively new original material--all of it terrific--and is fully on par with their classic early-to-mid 1980s albums like Signing Off, Present Arms, and Rat in the Kitchen. The title of the album acknowledges their support of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, whose tag line is "For the many, not the few" (and brings to my mind Jamaica's motto of inclusion and solidarity: "Out of many, one people."), while the album artwork by saxophonist Brian Travers is a skyline full of Grenfell Towers, both in tribute to the 72 poor and non-white lives lost in that horrific fire and as criticism of conservative policies of "austerity, outsourcing, and deregulation" that have neglected the safety and essential needs of Britain's less well-off citizens in order to further reward corporations and the rich. All of this signals that UB40 have found their democratic socialist-leaning political voice again--and they deliver a set of powerful and pointed songs about inequality--whether it be class, racial, or economic--that hit all of their targets. In all, this is an effective bid for reclaiming their relevance, converting new fans, and is a real gift to the faithful who have stuck with UB40 through thick and thin.

The thread that runs through much of the album is how human and systemic greed corrupts, perverts, and destroys everything: Communities, nations, our shared notion of what is means to be a good and successful person, even the band itself (more on that later). The wonderfully laid-back "Gravy Train" is a dynamite update/response of sorts to Ken Boothe's hymn of deliverance, "Train Is Coming"--but this one is going pass the vast majority of people by, as it's about the yawning divide of income inequality and the rigged political and economic system the keeps on funneling wealth and opportunity to the rich at the expense of everyone else.

Another day, another dollar
Feels like every day's the same
And I've given it the best years of my life
For someone else to ride on that Gravy Train
And I say

Here comes the Gravy Train
You can hear that whistle blowing 'round the bend
You can hear the sound of laughing
As the Gravy Train is passing
But that Gravy Train, it won't be stopping here

They say we're all in this together
But it gets harder every day
And if I work for a hundred years or more
I still won't get my seat on that Gravy Train...

....Rich man living in his castle
Poor man begging at his gate
If we can only get up
And stand up for our rights
We can send them all to hell on that Gravy Train


In a similar vein, "I'm Alright Jack" is delivered from the point of view of a politician who's using their position as a public servant to gleefully line their own pockets, while knowingly forsaking the people they're supposed to help and represent.

Don't you give me your hard luck story
I don't care now you voted for me
I know austerity's breaking your back
But, I'm alright, Jack

Don't complain that there's no state housing
I've bought mine made a profit of thousands
There's not many left, but I can't help that
But, I'm alright, Jack


There's even commentary on how in our rapacious capitalist system someone who works hard, stays out of debt (earning a poor credit score in the process!), and doesn't exploit others is considered a "Poor Fool":

He's worked for minimum wage
Even survived the dole
But he doesn't owe a penny
To a living soul
Poor Fool

He doesn't drive a big car
Or wear designer clothes
He tries hard to save a little
But a little soon goes
Poor Fool

Any millionaire would tell him
He should forget his foolish pride
And take the whole world for a ride
But he's a fool (Poor fool)
He's a fool (Poor fool)


The flip side of having political systems focused enriching the already rich, connected, and powerful is that much is left unresolved in the world. In "All We Do Is Cry," our extraordinary technology connects and makes us witness to daily injustice and suffering worldwide, but there's little political will or courage to resolve some or all of it (since conflict elsewhere often serves nation's strategic interests and the arms manufacturers and exporters are making too much cash in the process; there's no money for them in peace).

We see mothers cry
As their children die
On our TV sets
While we sit and vent
But nothing gets done
As they pass one by one
All they do is die


During the sax solo there are vocalizations that sound like a muezzin's call to prayer, suggesting that this song may be about the war in Syria and all of the never-ending wars in the Middle East in general.

And, of course, the band is concerned with events across the pond--the United States' narcissistic, self-dealing, money grubbing, white supremacist, chaos president, who is called out in "Bulldozer":

Trumpy Trumpy said
Your head must a full up a bumpy
Him dome must crack cause him so crazy
Ya Twittering daily like a baby

Him bring in the Muslim ban what dastardly plan
What a vindictive old racist man
But him plan did back fire Ninth Circuit judges called him a liar
Him is a man who love to play with da fire
But too much brimstone gone haywire
Him and rocket boy coming like pariahs...


Speaking of pariahs, the dancehall-ish "What Happened to UB40?" answers that question in the form of a brutal, stinging recounting of what they see as the avarice and hubris behind Ali, Mikey, and Astro's split with/betrayal of the rest of the band.

Say what happened to UB40 now?
Some of them think dem bigger than Bob Marley, whoa!
Who's who in a the party now
Gould's lurking in the corner now

Some of dem flimsy, some of dem shallow, want dem money in a wheelbarrow
Dem mind is weak, dem mind it narrow, little after dat them get para
Three Yoko Ono's so craving, want new house new car and tings
Spangles and bangles and diamond rings, you can hear them coming dem a j'lingaling...

...One man try fe go solo, like the explorer Marco Polo
The attendance weak, de attendance low
Him have fe stop cause him woulda bruk fe sure...
Your best friend could be your worst enemy, him a backbiter turn spy turn thief
Him pride broke down, say him a creep creep
Oh gosh me bredrin you done know we have fe weep...


Suffice to say, this is a UB40 album proper, so there's also a great batch of mid-tempo love songs on For the Many, including "The Keeper" ("I will lift your spirit, whenever you are blue/I will be your constant, when no one else is true/I will always be the friend you need to get you through/And you will be the keeper of my heart), "Moonlight Lover" (a great Duke Reid track first recorded by Joya Landis that may have versioned a fair amount of the Jiving Juniors' doo wop single of the same name), and the emotionally shattered protagonist of "You Haven't Called."

Amazingly, this year marks UB40's 41st anniversary; For the Many is their 19th studio album; and the much of the founding core of the band is still together after all this time and tribulation: Robin Campbell (co-vocals/guitar), Brian Travers (saxophone/keyboards), Jimmy Brown (drums), Earl Falconer (bass/keyboards/vocals), and Norman Hassan (percussion/vocals)--augmented by long-time members Duncan Campbell (vocals), Martin Meredith (saxophone), Laurence Parry (trumpet) and Tony Mullings (keyboards). Plus, many of their guest toasters are repeat collaborators: both Pablo Rider (on "I’m Alright Jack") and Slinger (on "Gravy Train) appeared on the 1985 album Baggariddim, and Hunterz (on "All We Do Is Cry") previously co-wrote and sang on UB40’s single "Reasons" from 2005's Who You Fighting For?

UB40 is touring the UK this April and then hitting various spots in Europe in May and June. Then, in July and August, they'll be playing in venues across the US and Canada this July and August. It's been almost a decade since they've last been in North America and who knows when they'll make it back. So, you might want to make a point to see them, particularly since they'll be performing tracks from such a superb and compelling album.

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[Notes: There is deluxe, double CD version of For the Many that includes an entire album of dubs, which we've ordered, but didn't receive in time for this review. Also, UB40 saxophonist Brian Travers recently was diagnosed with a brain tumor and will not be participating on the current tour (we wish him a speedy treatment and full recovery).]

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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Spring/Summer 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #3

In the foreground, Dave Wakeling plays guitar and sings into a microphone, while a shirtless Ranking Roger holds a mic and dances next to him.
Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger of The Beat
(with David Steele and Blockhead in the background).
Saturday, April 13, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Less Than Jake, MEST, Punchline

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$39.99 in advance/$45 day of show
21+

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Sunday, April 14, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Less Than Jake, MEST, Punchline

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$39.99 in advance/$45 day of show
21+

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Sunday, April 14, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NYC Ska Orchestra, Jah People

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, April 20, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Annual 420 Reggae Fiesta on the River
Dub is A Weapon, Crazy Baldhead Dub Apparatus, and more!

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Saturday, April 20, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

420 Celebration w/Cannabis Cub Band, H.R., Dog, Rude Boy George

Sony Hall
235 West 46th Street
New York, NY
$20

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Friday, May 10, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Mephiskapheles, The Press, The Take, Sewer Skrewer, Gilipollas

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$20 day of show
16+

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Friday, May 17, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Big Tunes (potential set list includes "Married Girl," "Sarah," "Rude and Reckless," and more; go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with The Hempsteadys, The Fad, DJ Rata

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Saturday, May 18, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Love and War (potential set list includes "Red Light," "Feed My Girl," "International War Criminal," and more; Go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with Westbound Train, The Scotch Bonnets, DJ Miss Haps

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Sunday, May 19, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Deep Cuts (potential set list includes "Stars," "Sing Your Song," "Contemplation," and more; go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with The Far East, Ensemble Calaveras, DJ One Hundred Decibels

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$18 in advance/$22 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Friday, May 31, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville Presents: The Pandemics, Sgt. Scagnetti, The Twilights, Fink's Constant w/DJ Ryan Midnight

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
New York, NY
No cover (but bring cash for tip bucket!)/21+

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Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Bluebeats

Hank's Saloon
345 Adams Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Pietasters

Rock Off Concert Cruise
Aboard The Lucille
Boards at 23rd Street and the FDR Drive
Manhattan
$37.50 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Friday, June 14, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Specials

Brooklyn Steel
319 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY
$45 in advance/$50 day of show
16+

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Tuesday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 19, 2019 @ 6:30 pm

Toots and the Maytals w/Selectress Iriela

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$36-$129
21+

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Friday, July 19, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Radicsfest #2 (In memory of Roy Radics of The Rudie Crew; a portion of the proceeds of the show will go to Roy's family.) w/Pilfers, Mephskapheles, Spring Heeled Jack, Hub City Stompers, Rude Boy George, Sgt. Scag.

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$25/16+

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Saturday, July 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Aggrolites, Mike Pinto

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20/21+

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Friday, August 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Prizefighters

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Friday, August 16, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NY Ska Jazz Ensemble

Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway
New York, NY
$25/all ages

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Friday, August 30, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Skapones (UK)

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Selecter w/special guest DJ Rhoda Dakar (Bodysnatchers/Special AKA)

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

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Friday, September 20, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Toasters

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Saturday, September 21, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Lee Scratch Perry and Subatomic Sound System, The Far East, DJ 2Melo

Industry City Courtyard 1/2
(Food Hall Entrance)
238 36th Street,
Brooklyn, NY
$25 in advance/$32 day of show
21+

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