Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC "Dog Days of Summer" 2018 Ska Calendar #7

Saturday, July 28, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

Reggay Lords

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Queens, NY

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Saturday, August 4, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

Sister Nancy, Shinehead with DJ Papalotl, DJ Misbehavior

Crotona Park
Bronx, NY
Info through City Parks Foundation

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Saturday, August 18, 2018 @ 6:30 pm

The Pietasters Booze Cruise

The Lucille
Board boat at East 23rd Street and FDR Drive in Manhattan
$37.50 in advance/$40 day of show

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Friday, August 24, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Fishbone ("Classic '80s/'90s line-up!), Oxymorrons

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

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Saturday, August 25, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers Booze Cruise

The Liberty Belle
Board boat at Pier 36, 299 South Street in Manhattan
$30 in advance/$35 day of show

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Friday, August 31, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Los Pies Negros, Mephiskapheles, Ensemble Calavera, The Pandemics, DJ Ryan Midnight, DJ Comadre

Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

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Friday, September 7, 2018 @ 7:30 pm

Rebellion Rises 2018 Tour Featuring Ziggy Marley, Steel Pulse & Tribal Seeds

Pier 17
89 South Street
New York, NY

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If you don't see a NYC ska show listed here, send us all of the details to!

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Duff Review: "Trojan 50th Anniversary Picture Disc" (plus Trojan Reloaded)!

Trojan Records/Sanctuary Records Group/BMG
Heavyweight vinyl picture disc LP

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Of all the This Is Trojan 50! releases coming out this year celebrating the label's golden anniversary, the Trojan 50th Anniversary Picture Disc seemed like the most sensible one to pick up, since I felt compelled to partake in this significant milestone somehow ("The Story of Trojan Records" book by Laurence Cane-Honeysett comes out in October and I'll probably buy that, too). I've been collecting Trojan comps--the vast majority of them nothing short of excellent--since the early 1990s (some of my favorites include The Trojan StoryThe Trojan Story Volume II, The Story of Trojan RecordsRebel Music, Reggae Chartbusters, Club Reggae, Blow Mr. Hornsman, Freedom Sounds, Music Is My OccupationClement "Coxsone" Dodd - Musical Fever 1967-1968, and Clancy Eccles And Friends - Fatty Fatty 1967 - 1970). Having said that, the downside of being along for the ride for several of Trojan's five decades has been seeing many of the same classic cuts packaged, go out of print, and then be repackaged over and over and over again.

The Trojan 50 box set (priced at $135 in the USA and containing six CDs, four LPs, two 7" singles, and some label merch) is quite beautifully designed and contains a veritable treasure trove of Jamaican ska, rocksteady, and reggae; but unless you're new to the genre (and if you are, by all means buy this, since you'll own some of the greatest music ever recorded) or an obsessive Trojan collector that has to have everything, you already possess the majority of these songs. Being a sucker for vinyl and picture discs (and Trojan vinyl can be hard to come by in the states--on a recent trip to New Orleans, I picked up a pretty beat up copy of the phenomenal 1969 Reggae Chartbusters comp because it was the first copy I'd ever seen in all my many decades of crate digging and it contains Dandy Livingstone's awesome "Reggae in Your Jeggae"; fortunately, the surface noise doesn't distract too much and I paid less than $10 for it!), I'm pretty pleased with my purchase.

The selection of tracks on the Trojan 50th Anniversary Picture Disc--all UK top 10 chart hits back in the day--is unquestionably spectacular. Of all the late '60s/early '70s Trojan classics here (Desmond Dekker and The Aces' "Israelites," The Pioneers' "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah," Harry J All Stars' "Liquidator," Ken Boothe's "Everything I Own," The Upsetter's "Dollar In The Teeth," John Holt's Kris Kristofferson cover of "Help Me Make It Through the Night," Althea and Donna's "Uptown Ranking," Susan Cadogan's "Hurt So Good," Dave and Ansel Collins' "Double Barrel," Bob and Marcia's "To Be Young Gifted and Black," and Nicky Thomas' "Love of the Common People"), the only cut I was unfamiliar with (and am glad to have) is Sophia George's relatively late (1985) but great top #7 UK hit, "Girlie Girlie." This is a record you can put on at house party and just let it play.

As part of its celebrations, Trojan is releasing new music again through its new imprint Trojan Reloaded (the first 7" dancehall single on this label is "Real Reggae Music" from Reggae Roast Soundsystem, featuring Tippa Irie, which is available in the US on August 10, 2018--and their excellent digital Murder EP is out now). Here's hoping that this move creates lots of opportunities for some new reggae classics to be born...

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Ska: A Music, Not a Typo" (Trouser Press)

A few weeks ago, we picked up six back issues of "Trouser Press" at the Archive of Contemporary Music, during one of their sales. While this incredible music mag was primarily concerned with covering New Wave in the late '70s/early '80s, it did offer a good deal of 2 Tone coverage (I have an issue with a great feature on The Beat and just found reviews of The Specials' More Specials and Madness' Absolutely in the January '81 issue with Gary Numan on the cover). And then I came across these pretty spot-on write-ups of several great Trojan and Mango ska comps from the November 1980 issue with The Cars on the front...

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Duff Review: Heavyball "Black Eye Diaries"

Magnetic North Melodies

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Heavyball's second album When Can You Start? was one of our favorite albums of 2017 (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here) and is still in frequent rotation on our turntable. So, when we learned through Kevin Flowerdew's essential Do The Dog Skazine that Heavyball's debut album Black Eye Diaries (Ten Uplifting Songs About Death and Disappointment) was back in print, we got our hands on a copy as soon as the Royal Mail could deliver it to our lair in New York City. Whereas When Can You Start? is a brilliant mod-ska-Brit pop opera of sorts about a week in lives of workers both high and low in the UK, Black Eye Diaries focuses on the indignities of living in the middle of nowhere, stuck in an existence with not much good going on, and of life (and people) letting you down badly. Sounds like a bummer of a record, but as the subtitle of the album states, it delivers as advertised: these are terrific, upbeat songs about life's hard truths.

The tension and limits of living in lesser metro areas are conveyed in tracks like the no future of "Small Time Hero" ("Your girlfriend is still in detention/You park up and smoke by the gates/Her song is playing so she can hear/Her teacher wishes you'd disappear...And you're never gonna leave this town/Where you can't afford to buy a round/And you're never gonna get too far/Flipping burgers in a fast food bar/And you're never gonna leave this place/Non-starter in the human race/And you're never gonna leave this town/'Cos you didn't even last the round") and a fantastic ska cover of Bronski Beat's mid-'80s synth-pop hit "Smalltown Boy," about a gay teen's experience with homophobia, gay-bashing, and familial rejection leading him to abandon his home town for the (hopefully) more tolerant (or anonymous) big city. "Another Country" expresses disgust at the increasing economic inequality between the very rich in London versus everyone else outside its city limits ("It's like living in another country/It's all ugly and it's all for show/Too many folk with too much money/Looking down on the one's below...Now I'm home I feel much better/So much better than I did before/It may be cold, I know it's wetter/I'll never be a city boy...Home sweet home/We're not wanted").

Then there are songs of bad decisions and dashed expectations. The top of that list is the hilarious, self-aware/regretful, still-in-love with your ex/drunk bar fight song "Black Eye Friday" that manages to work in a bit of Toots and the Maytals' "54-46 (Was My Number)": "I hit him one time/He hit me three times/I was talking, when I should've been listening..." (that last bit is something that singer/guitarist Bigface heard during a stint in the army: "I stole that quote from a corporal I worked with in the army. When the lads turned up for first parade on Monday morning, at least one would always have a black eye. He’d taunt them in a broad Sunderland accent 'Ah! You was talking when you should have been listening, eh?'"). Or the tale in "Wanted" of how she's left her boyfriend/husband and is literally running off with you, but it's changed the dynamics of everything in ways you didn't expect: "You got what you wanted/But you lost what you had/And if you got all that you wanted/Why do you look so sad?" (Which reminds me of this admittedly nerdy, but apt Star Trek quote spoken by Spock's character in "Amok Time": "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.") The bitter, but completely rocking mod track "Lost Heroes" expresses the sting and anger of learning that the people you looked up to--pop stars and politicians alike--are complete frauds ("And I have seen everything I need/And I don't need anything I've seen"); there's an incredible live acoustic version of it here! The eerie ska cut "Hands Up" is (I think) about managing to survive the horrors of war and making it back home (which was all you wanted), but being so damaged by the experience that you end up taking your own life.

The album ends with "Unhappy Now," an extraordinary Revolver-era Beatles/Sound Affects-era Jam-influenced song about (guiltily) having to leave a dead-end town and a good friend mired in a rut: "No money to pay the rent/Now the money's all been spent/Because life is hard in our town/Being home just dragged him down...Moved deep down south for a life in the sun/I'm sorry that I'm the only one to go/People so unhappy now/Everyone's so unhappy now/And deep down I still miss him/But I've made my choice/And now I've got to go."

It's relatively rare to come across such a powerful collection of songs that ring so true and real in their depiction of--and ambivalence toward--modern life. Heavyball's Black Eye Diaries is a phenomenal ska-mod soundtrack for one's less-than-hoped-for existence.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Caz Gardiner, The Far East, The Classy Wrecks

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

The always amazing Caz Gardiner (ex-Checkered Cabs/ex-Caz and the Day Laborers) has an excellent new(ish) single out called "Stop" (digital, Carbonero Records, 2018)--which is a full-on funky soul track about someone who should be seen, but definitely not heard ("...The way you talking/I keep thinking/Stop!"). A whole lot of ska fans love their soul--so make sure to check out this cut and keep tabs on whatever Caz is doing next.

Brooklyn's The Far East have released an intriguing new single "Far East Ride" b/w "Rain On My Party" (vinyl single/digital, Channel Tubes, 2018). I'm really partial to the B side, which is billed as a Lovers Rock cut, but seems more influenced by the sounds of late '50s/early '60s girl groups (check out the "wah-wah-wah" backing harmonies) married to some serious rocksteady grooves. But don't just take my word on this--legendary BBC reggae DJ David Rodigan recently gave the track his stamp of approval by Tweeting out the link to the official "Rain On My Party" video. (Speaking of Rodigan, his autobiography is a fascinating read! In particular, the story of his first trip to JA to buy dub plates from King Tubby is absolutely incredible!)

Toronto's Classy Wrecks play a really enjoyable mix of hook-filled pop and rocksteady--and they've just released two songs as a preview of their forthcoming album Bedrocksteady (digital, Bandcamp, 2018). "In the Evening" is about a guy who kind of knows he's on the less equal side of the relationship equation ("You said that we're always having fun/But I'm waiting on your every move/Baby, you control my mood"), but is kind of okay with it. "Time Moves On"--essentially a good kick in the ass for procrastinators to get things in gear now--has a fantastic, almost Motown-ish horn riff embedded in it. I'm definitely interested in hearing where the rest of the album takes us...

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: King Kong Girio, Boomtown United

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Before releasing two new, forthcoming EPs he's produced for Susan Cadogan and his own King Kong Four, King Kong Girio (ex-King Apparatus) has issued a sensational new single "When The Needle Drops" (digital, Bandcamp, 2018) that shouldn't be missed. Originally penned for another artist (who passed on it) and then shelved until Girio recently rediscovered it, the track is a slightly melancholy ("But time abandons/and leaves us here/Where we don't want to stay") but thoroughly nostalgic and heartfelt homage to the 1960s JA ska originators: "Was it the best of what you are/on a scratched up 45?/Because when that needle drops/Your music comes alive/When we look back/We can see where it all began/So long ago/You're not forgotten." Maybe it all was better then, but I'm pretty happy in the here and now with songs like this. Keep 'em coming!

St. Louis, MO's Boomtown United recently popped up on my radar through their contribution of "Work It Out" to the excellent Jump Up/Ska Brewing compilation Drink the Ska (read The Duff Guide to Ska review here). Their new, five-track, self-titled EP (digital, iTunes/Amazon, 2018) is full of extremely catchy and must-sing-along modern/post-2 Tone ska tracks. The urgent, slightly desperate (and shades of "English Civil War") "Outside" is fantastic rebel music: "Times are often tumultuous/A condition in the way in which we live/Searching for hope/Lost in the shadows/And the chances are rail thin/Down and out/That's how they found us/And they never really count us in...Oh, it may seem kind of ugly/That's just the way it is/We may seem kind of dangerous/From the outside looking in!" (An anthem for the resistance? You decide.) The unquenchable desire/lust in "Love Like Fire" (which boils down to: "Hot to the touch/I can't get enough") is conveyed in the dissonant trills of the sax, which are the aural equivalent of flames of fire. "Too Many Chances" lays out the inevitable after it's all gone bad ("The seeds of separation are starting to grow/Now time will tell us what we already know"), while "The Calling" is a soulful lament for musicians and their partners--I love you, but I've got to hit the road. Fans of bands like The Crombies and The Dirty Notion will be instant converts to Boomtown United (the Midwest ska scene has got it going on!). This is a band to keep an eye on...

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