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.


jay said...

That Central Park show was one of the first times I ever came to NYC, long before I moved here. I was seriously flipping my shit when I found out they'd be back.

True story: At the end of the night, I had to half-carry my roommate off the floor because xe danced so hard, xe came dangerously close to having an asthma attack. That's how you know it was a good show, haha.

Unknown said...

Hey Steve,

Great review! Bummer you had to leave before the show let out. Just wanted to throw a bit more information out there:

The Electric Avenue show that The Pandemics played was actually in 2012, about 6 months ago in November. I believe you said that your flip camera was broken at the time. Bummer about the video, but on that note we came loaded for bear at this show with 3 people shooting video, 2 taking still pictures (one of which's photos we have been posting in spurts as we go through them) and another person doing audio capture off the sound board. All of the video/audio needs some editing work, but we'll eventually be posting some of it as it gets finished.

The two covers we did in our set were actually a part of a 4 song cover medley. Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles / Hard Man Fe Dead by Prince Buster / One Cup of Coffee by Bob Marley / Moon Hop by Derrick Morgan, arranged by our guitarist Brian Kennedy. We actually worked this out specifically to get it ready for this show, knowing we'd have a really short set time. 4 songs in under 7.5 minutes isn't bad.

As Ska Para is my favorite band, I am happy to identify/label any songs you may have questions about of theirs :) If that is my setlist picture, i'd love to get credit on that one ;)

As for the songs in Japanese listed, just so you can complete the list, they are:

Track 2 is Hijosen Toppa

Here's a video of it from Cochella

Track 10: Suikinkutsu

can't find a recording of the show's version, but here's the PV version.

Track 12: Lupin The 3rd, 78'!

This was the theme from the popular Anime series from the late 70s/early 80s that enjoyed a run on cartoon network's adult swim for awhile in the early 00s.

They also played 5 days of tequila to open their Encore and one other tune that I am kicking myself for forgetting before Pride Of Lions :)

Here's 5 Days Of Tequila (My FAVORITE TSPO song!, and a strong contender for my favorite song ever :) ). Had the good fortune to watch this one from the side of the stage at the door :)

Unknown said...

Found it! Here's the live version Suikinkutsu from the show