Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Duff Gig Review: Bigger Thomas, The Shifters, Silver Dollar, Princelionsound, and Rudies Don't Care

Maybe it was all the dollar Keystone Ice I had downed, or the work week's stress finally getting a chance to be released, a symptom of my deepening middle-age crisis, or the effect of the Super Moon hovering over NYC, but for about 45 stunning minutes last Saturday night (3/19/11), Bigger Thomas were the greatest ska band around and the black box at The Lake in Bushwick was the best--hell, the only--place to be in the world.

Even though the crowd was a little lighter than it has been the last few times I've been there (this wasn't an Agent Jay/Crazy Baldhead Dirty Reggae night: none of the hometown Brooklyn rocksteady bands were on the bill--like The Forthrights or The Hard Times--and there weren't any groups that had a strong pull with the Latin punk and ska scenes), good vibes reigned and the place began to feel full as the night went on.

Sorry that I can't report on Princelionsound's and Silver Dollar's sets. I was in the back room in a deep conversation with Roger Apollon, Jr. (from Bigger Thomas) about why ska didn't hit it big in the 90s--the laundry list of reasons would fill several lengthy blog posts here--and what it would take for a ska band to blow up now (not sure if it's even possible). And then was getting the skinny on what DJ Grace of Spades will be doing during her brief exile from New York (hanging out with friends in New Orleans, including Maddie Ruthless--and you can bet Grace will have some 45s with her in case the opportunity arises--have vinyl, will travel!).

I did catch Rudies Don't Care--with Tommi Infamous doing a fantastic job toasting over some riddim tracks that Jah Point spun. Check out the super low light video (he was outside the "bar" area standing on a cable spool) I shot of Tommi performing his "Eye Spy" (a cut that expresses his ambivalence about iPhones) over the "Revolution" rhythm (best known as Barrington Levy's "Here I Come"). Make sure to stay with it until the end to hear Tommi say that "it's difficult having a half-deaf selector," when Jah Point missed Tommi's cue.

Next, Bigger Thomas hit the stage in the black box--and it may seem stodgily nostalgic to admit it--but their 2 Tone-inspired 80s NYC ska always gets me. It's a key sound from my youth, when so much of my life was yet unwritten. Hearing it is like bumping into one of your best mates from school years on. Everything is immediately familiar, the passage of time disappears, and the conversation picks up as if you had just seen them a few days ago. The band played an awesomely heady mix of cuts from their debut "Red" album (released in 1990) up to their great Steal My Sound CD (2010), including "Movin,'" "More & More" "Permanent Error," "Shamokin," "Can't Remember My Name," "Chaos," and "Ska in My Pocket" (which, unfortunately, has Roger's mic a bit low in the mix). You should have been there, but you can experience (or re-live) it through the videos I shot...

After the fantastic BT set, I ran into Sammy Kay from The Forthrights who told me about a slew of new vinyl coming out from the band soon (did I hear something about a box set?!)...wish I had more details, but it was hard to hear him (the music was too loud, I was kind of sloshed). Sidebar plug: The Forthrights are headed out on the Ska is Dead Young Guns tour in mid-to-late April with We Are the Union (plus Stuck Lucky, Brunt of It, The Fad, and Green Room Rockers along various portions of the tour).

While waiting for a ride back to Manhattan, I managed to catch one cut from DC's The Shifters before before I got the hook. Here is their killer cover of Sound Dimension's "Rockfort Rock" (which was originally written by Rafael Hernández Marín in the 1940s --it's actually a classic latin cut!):

All apologies to Marc Wasserman and Roger for my ramblings on the way back to the city, but the night out and Bigger Thomas' set had been just what I needed to keep on going.


Duncan said...

Thanks for the kind words. It's sort of funny you caught us doing Rockfort Rock. We'll most likely not play much of it in the future; we really only learned a handful of covers a few weeks ago because we had some big personnel changes. It was a great show. I've been to The Lake a few times before and I definitely would love to be back, if they'll have us.

Cheers - Duncan
(The Shifters/BlueBeat DC)

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks for the feedback, Duncan. I definitely wished I caught more of your set. You guys were really good. Hope to see you playing in NYC again!



Hannah said...

Hey man, I love your blog. You have some fantastic reviews and vids up!

I was just wondering if there are any ska concerts in the Mnahattan area soon, before the 25, that would be worth catching? I'm visiting, but would really like to see some of the NYC ska scene. Thanks man!

Steve from Moon said...


Thanks for your kind words. I really appreciate them.

Here's the one kind of ska/reggae related show I know of:

LIVE!...This Thursday, March 24th (9pm-Midnight)

MOVER YOUR MULE DJ's select Reggae and Soul oldies ALL NIGHT!

OTTO'S SHRUNKEN HEAD - 538 E. 14th St. (A/B)

Kames Jelly said...

The beer definitely had something to do with it, but Bigger Thomas definitely did play a great set.

I wish I wasn't so tired and slightly annoyed by the time the Shifters set started because I would have loved to catch another set by them. They were great the night before at Dingbatz. My only criticism of them is that their entire set that night was love songs and it got a little tired by the end, but they were good songs so I was able to overlook it. However, the best song they played was a funky reggae number they ended the show with that night that WASN'T a love song. So I'd love to hear more of that from them next time they come back to the area.


Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, KJ! I always appreciate how you fill in the blanks!

Duncan said...

Hey James,

I read your (same) criticism over on NJSka. I don't have an account there so I didn't bother responding. For the most part, dude, I agree. We're a new band who jumped on a theme as a stepping stone. After all, we all are big fans of Rocksteady. I think as we go on, you'll hear different kinds of output from us - different themes, different genres, different lyrical content, etc. However, I also feel compelled to defend our songs/set.

Firstly, the bulk of Rocksteady songs are, indeed, love songs so it's kind of implied you're going to hear a thematic nod to love and heartbreak when listening to a Rocksteady band. Slim Smith never sang about losing his car keys or being pissed off at his boss. Secondly, the night before at Dingbatz, they cut our set short to 30 minutes. We do have a few more songs. The video taken by Steve Friday night is an example of that (we didn't play Rockfort Rock in New Jersey). Thirdly, we have had MAJOR line up changes in the last three weeks. We've replaced our vocalist, and lost a trumpet player (with no replacement). Our drummer moved to percussion and backing vocals, so we brought in a new drummer to fill that gap. We're basically a new band, aside from already being a young band (we only started playing shows August of last year). So please understand, there's only so much one band can do in a few short weeks.

Again, I'm not trying to argue with anyone. Just stating our point of view and where we're coming from. I actually don't mind criticism and again, I agree mostly with your sentiments. On the other hand, it seems to me bands never have room to grow anymore. Which prompts me to take a little bit of a defensive stance. Few if any bands hit the ground running. We're a new band and we're trying our best. In the short months we've been together we continually get better, at our own pace.

Personally, I'm extremely pleased we were able to fulfill our obligations. We set these shows up well before everything was turned upside down. I'm glad people enjoyed their timw with us and we're going to try to get up there again in the near future.

Cheers - Duncan
(The Shifters/Bluebeat DC)

Kames Jelly said...

I totally hear what you're saying Duncan and like I said, they were good enough tunes that it didn't really detract from me enjoying your set that night. I'm lookin forward to you guys comin back to Jersey/NYC soon with new material because I liked everything you played so I'm stoked to see what else you guys come up with.

Also, it was nice meeting you at the Lake. Maybe I can convince Elaina to take a trip down to DC and catch you guys there. I've never been and I've been dyin to check out the whole Bluebeat DC thing you've got goin on down there.

Steve from Moon said...

Everyone feel the love!