Sunday, November 3, 2019

Duff Gig Review: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra at Sony Hall on 10/22/19

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra performing at Sony Hall 
(Review by Steve Shafer)

Several frenetic and sweaty songs into their set at Sony Hall in Manhattan on 10/11/19, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's baritone sax man Atsushi Yanaka stood on one of the monitors and introduced their song "Paradise Has No Borders" by gesturing to the packed audience (a diverse mix of Japanese ex-pats plus NYC area TSPO fans of every color and background) with open arms in a manner that indicated everyone in the room and said,"Welcome to our paradise!" While the surface-level reading of this statement was about the musical communion in the room, the subtext--for anyone paying close attention--was an anti-racist declaration, as full-throated an endorsement of multiculturalism as this decidedly apolitical and entertainment-focused band felt comfortable expressing. And that made it all of the more powerful and appreciated coming from them in this ugly age of metastasizing nativism and white supremacy.

Even though I have caught TSPO live previously, I was still bowled-over by the extraordinary intensity and almost non-stop, bum-rush-the-songs, high-energy of their wildly engaging performances (they have the stamina of gods and know how to work a crowd into a frenzy, as they did on "Lupin the III '78," which was part of an insane medley that included "Movin' Dub," "Burning Scale," "Blue Mountain," "Kimi to Boku," and "Break into the Light"!)--and it struck me (in a very minor revelation that I'm sure others have realized long ago) that this explains the heavy, Bosstones-y vibe given off by a good portion of the crowd. They feed off/find release in that ska-core-like roaring buzz and beat, even though TSPO are light years away in terms of sound and musical inspiration. There were, of course, a few musical interludes where the pianist (Yuichi Oki on "Suikinkutsu") or melodica player (Nargo, AKA Kimiyoshi Nagoya, during the intro to "Ska Me Crazy") took over the stage so the rest of the band could catch a much-needed breather, but those moments were far and few between.

In addition to the songs mentioned above, TSPO's fantastic set list included "Skaravan," "Downbeat Stomp," "Jamaica Ska" (via Fishbone and Annette Funicello, of course), a cover of Madness'/Prince Buster's "One Step Beyond" (no doubt, a nod to the 40th anniversary of the release of Madness' debut album), their version of the "Theme to the Godfather" (AKA "Speak Softly Love"), Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" TSPO's new single "Zombie Games," and "All Good Ska Is One."

Really, there's no question that Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra are one of the best ska acts in the studio and on stage. This year marks the 30th anniversary of their first release (their eponymous EP) and here's hoping they keep on going for many years to come. After their encore, the band said they'd be back (bring t-shirts for the merch table next time!)--and the crowd made it abundantly clear that TSPO's always welcome in NYC.

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To read more about Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, check out these Duff Guide to Ska posts:

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

Duff Review: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra "Paradise Has No Border"

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: BBC (Bovell, Brown, Cobby) "Quality Weed," Leon Dinero "If You Ask Me" b/w Screechy Dan "Bandits"

The paper label of this 7" single displays the name of the song ("Quality Weed"), the group that recorded it (BBC), the label that released it (Declasse), and all of the copyright information.(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

"Quality Weed" (7" vinyl single, Declasse Records, 2019) is a terrific,  amusing, pro-pot cut borne of a collaboration between Dennis Bovell (Blackbeard, Matumbi, The 4th Street Orchestra), Jimmy Brown (UB40), and Steve Cobby (DJ/producer, Fila Brazilia, The Solid Doctor). The lyrics, sung by Bovell with his almost impossibly deep voice, pretty much sum up the proceedings: "Take my advice now, now hear ye this/There's nothing wrong with cannabis/Set yourself free whenever you wanna/Avail yourself of some marijuana/Select the buds and plant the seeds/To be sure that you're partaking of quality weed..."

The track is presented in two versions, a traditional, dubby roots reggae take and a house remix on the flip side (that manages to retain its reggae flavor through the bass line and brass). With its cranked up BPM and additional percussive touches, the house version--unsurprisingly--has more life to it and is actually the better of the two. Essential for Bovell completists like this reviewer; diversionary fun for everyone else.

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This is the second Daptone single from singer Leon Dinero and producer Victor Axelrod (upon first hearing his debut from earlier this year--"Lover Like Me" b/w "Conscious is Heavy"-- you'd swear it was a lost '60s Skatalites/Jackie Mittoo 45 recovered from Studio One's vaults--it's superb). "If You Ask Me" (7" vinyl single, Daptone Records, 2019) is one of the late Dan Klein's sweet rocksteady compositions that was considered for The Frightnrs debut LP back in 2016, but put aside in favor of other material. Dinero, backed by the remaining Frightnrs, does this lovely, pleading love song justice ("If you ask me to/I would be the very best me I could be...") and this cut reminds the listener, once again, of Klein's considerable songwriting gifts. "Bandits" features Screechy Dan on the mic decrying the predatory and racist policy of allowing the gentrification of large swathes of Brooklyn by greedy landlords/real estate developers (with tacit approval from the city) and the resulting mass displacement of poor/working class people of color (from neighborhoods where they've lived for decades) over the boss "If You Ask Me" instrumental track: "From Bed Stuy to Crown Heights to Flatbush/Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, down to Red Hook/It's like bandits come in/Have the place shook/While we look as our culture get ambushed..." Like all truly great and catchy protest songs, "Bandits" moves both your body and conscience (that is, if you have one).

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Duff Review: Various Artists "Check One-2: Spirit of '79"

A harrington jacket is covered with badges for The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter, and other 2 Tone bands.Specialized Records
4xCD (2xLP to be released on Jump Up Records)
2019

(Review by Steve Shafer)

At last, this is the 2 Tone 40th anniversary-related release that fans have been waiting for! While many of the key 2 Tone players are still too consumed with nursing past/present grievances to organize official 2 Tone concerts or make an effort to release rare or unheard material from the vaults, leave it to their progeny to do the heavy lifting to properly honor 2 Tone's legacy! Coming in at a weighty 67 songs spread out over four CDs, Specialized Record's Check One-2: Spirit of '79 is a stunningly good tribute to 2 Tone and all of its associated acts (bravo to all involved!). Honestly, there's not a bum track here.

As with all compilations of this type, it's split between bands who turned in fairly faithful renditions (despite comp producer Paul Ayriss specifically requesting participating acts not to record exact copies of the originals) and those who reinterpreted the tracks, injecting a bit of their own DNA to put a new spin on beloved, if very familiar, material. Notably, in addition to illustrating 2 Tone's enduring and global impact, a large number of the acts on Check One-2: Spirit of '79 feature female singers (Boss Riot, Malabo Ska, The Tremolites w/Valerie Etienne, The Scotch Bonnets, Third Beat Drop, The Pressure Tenants w/Eloise Berry, Project Blackbird, The Tinkerman, The Red Stripes, Erin Bardwell Collective, Well Charged, The Decatonics, The Reggaskas, RK Ska, Indeed)--finally rectifying the imbalance between 2 Tone's stated anti-sexist stance (in spite of some overtly sexist songs) and the relatively few women actually in 2 Tone bands back in the day.

Below are comments on some of the bands who went further afield in their cover versions that are worth calling out (and in no way is meant to slight the many acts on here who recorded really excellent covers that didn't stray too far from their source, including Napoleon Solo, Boomtown United, Boss Riot, Erin Bardwell Collective, The Porkers, The Bishops, Hub City Stompers, Rude Boy George, and others).

Disc One
The Inflatables "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend": Dammers' dark no-wave jazz/reggae/pop gem is revved up to ska speed, giving it a sharper edge that underscores the lyrics' manipulation and duplicity even more than the original.
Detroit Riddim Crew "Three Minute Hero": The Selecter's frenetic, aggro frustration at punching in and out of soul-crushing, dead-end jobs is traded in for a more laid-back, but equally insistent rocksteady reading of this cut.
King Hammond "Murda! (Exodus 20:13)": The King delivers a bold Motown-ish take on The Selecter's cover of Owen and Leon Silvera's 1962 Blue Beat single; the Biblical reference, of course, relates to the sixth of the Ten Commandments--"Thou shall not kill"--and the song's original lyrics paraphrase part of Psalm 55 ("If I had a pair of wings, I would fly away...").
The Crombies "Click Click": This one's got even more menace and out-of-control-ness than The Beat's, as someone contemplates ending it all via a solo round of Russian Roulette.
The Communicators "The Selecter": Neol Davies and John Bradbury's seminal 2 Tone track that triggered the creation of that magnificent band is transformed into an awesome 2 Tone medley that weaves back and forth from this song to bits of "Three Minute Hero," "Do the Dog," "Rat Race," "On My Radio," "Nelson Mandela," and more.

Disc Two
J. Navarro and The Traitors "Ghost Town": Like their counterparts in Coventry, these boys from Detroit know what it's like to live in a formerly prosperous, but now decaying motor city; though their anger and dismay doesn't seethe and simmer, but boils over.
The Skapones "Do the Dog": Paul Willo and Co.'s take on The Specials' rendition of Rufus Thomas' "The Dog" is all "keep it cool, boy" swinging jazz, that is until the abrupt body blow shift to ska punk that knocks you off your feet, creating a tension and contrast appropriate for a song about all of theses factions itching to maim and kill each other.
Andy Keys Clark and Friends "Rasta Call You": Imagine this Rico cut in Maroon Town's hands or if the Potato 5 circa True Fact had covered it; the beat and sound are dance foor big, and the tempo's brisk.
Third Beat Drop "It's Up to You": The Specials' red or blue pill choice posed to its audience ("Take it or leave it we'll carry on regardless/If you don't like it you don't have to use it") about standing up to racism/fascism in one's everyday life is reframed as a seductive dare to do the right thing when white supremacists come for you.
Gruppo Sportivo "Mirror in the Bathroom": This radical, rock reworking of one of The Beat's signature tunes by this revived New Wave-era band probably shouldn't work, but succeeds brilliantly.
Vieja Skina "Nite Klub": Terry Hall's bile is drained away and substituted with a kind of louche joy; no one gives a damn if you have a job or future, which is freeing in its own perverse way.
The Pressure Tenants featuring Eloise Berry "Do Nothing": Laurel Aitken's former backing band delivers a wild soul/pop/dancehall reworking of one of Lynval Golding's finest moments; though the nonchalance at how things are is replaced by a knowing and weary sadness.
Heavensbee featuring Mista Rhee "Inner London Violence": These moonlighting Rude Boy George/Bigger Thomas members enlist The Boilers' Olivier Rhee (!) and his toasting skills for a UB40-like take on the Bad Manners classic about the veritable "Clockwork Orange" urban war zone right outside one's door.
Project Blackbird "Easy Life": This is an incredible jazz-AM pop version of The Bodysnatcher's brightest moment--about feeling some ambivalence over the choice between surrendering to sexist gender roles or mustering the will to fight for real gender equality.
The Tinkerman "Friday Night Saturday Morning": Ayriss took his own advice and he and his band mates created a gorgeous, lush, and ultimately very lonely rendition of Terry Hall's song, with lots of ice rink organ, synth washes, and dub effects--all to emphasize how leisure-time fun isn't really possible when there's no purpose to, or way forward in, your life.

Disc Three
Woltka Trawolta "Hands Off...She's Mine": Instead of trying to keep pace with The Beat's manic pace, this one heads in the opposite direction, giving it a lovely reggae skank, though the delivery comes across as more sincere, instead of The Beat's "spoof" on the fragile male ego, jealousy, and ridiculous notions of male "ownership" of women.
Well Charged "Street Feeling": This is less tightly wound and brighter than the original, but just as sharp, about someone striving to become hard in order to survive in the world outside one's home; and it's one of my favorite Selecter tracks.
The Feckin Ejits "Rat Race": Roddy Radiation's tune is presented as dirty punk rock, quite appropriately, as capitalism is an ugly, rigged game.
Martyn Callwood "Why?": Golding's stark original is compellingly fleshed-out musically--though the question about the senselessness of real-life racial knife attack he experienced remains the same.
Too Many Crooks "Concrete Jungle": Roddy's tale of struggling to evade endemic urban violence is recast as a cool Northern Soul/Dexys Midnight Runners track.

Disc Four
Orquestra Brasileira De Musica Jamaicana "Ghost Girl from Ipanema": At first, it may seem odd to incorporate sections of "The Girl from Ipanema" into The Specials' searing swan song, but if you think about it, both Thatcher's government and the girl walking to the beach in Rio wouldn't give the youth the time of day. (Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra should considering doing this version in addition to their "Ghost Planet"!)
Bim Skala Bim "Lorraine": Bim shaves off a bit of the domestic violence-y edge of this admittedly catchy and never meant to be serious Bad Manners tune by having a female singer respond to/question/make light of some of the more egregious statements; plus they present this track via their fantastic trademark sound, which is always winning.
Beat Bahnhof "Ska Wars": Arthur Kay's 1979 single is refashioned as a 1980s computer game-y, New Wave-influenced ska; offbeat, but it does the job well.
RK Ska "Run Me Down": I've been a fan of The Higsons' great funk cut since first hearing it in the early '80s on the New York City area radio station WLIR (which played it frequently), but didn't realize it was a 2 Tone release until years later (it's certainly an outlier on the label); and I love it as a ska song, too.
Subject A "Stereotypes": Taking up where The Specials' extended version left off (see The 2 Tone Story), this is a terrific, chat-filled dub.

All in all, Check One-2: Spirit of '79 reminds one of all of the brilliant original material (and choice '60s JA covers) recorded by the 2 Tone acts, much of which still holds extraordinary power and relevance four decades on. Of course, 2 Tone was always more than a label and roster of acts. It was a look, a scene, an attitude (tolerance, unity), and a movement that was part musical, part political (anti-racist, pro-democratic socialist-like governmental policies). Even if some of the original bands have lost the thread of all this, the fans haven't. Chrysalis, the songwriters, and the bands may own their respective copyrights, etc., but 2 Tone isn't really theirs. The spirit and message of 2 Tone belongs to--and lives on in--the fans and these bands.

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Proceeds of Check One-2: Spirit of '79 support three UK charities: the Teenage Cancer Trust, the National Foundation for Youth Music, and Tonic Music for Mental Health.

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Read Duff Guide to Ska reviews of other Specialized releases:

Boss: Tribute to the Original Sounds 7" singles
"Gifted: A Ska Tribute to The Jam" LP
Specialized: "A Modern Take on Specials Classics" 7" EP
Specialized II "Beat Teenage Cancer" 7" singles
Specialized III 7" singles and another Specialized III 7" single

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Barbicide "Fresh Cuts" and The Twilights* "Hear What I Say"


Editor's note: Back over the summer, I featured these bands (along with the mighty Beat Brigade) at my occasional Electric Avenue ska night at Characters in midtown Manhattan--and I'm a big fan of both acts.

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Barbicide, for those of you who've never stepped foot in a traditional barber shop, is the blue disinfectant, fungicide, and virucide that barbers dip combs, scissors, and razors into to kill off fungi and all sorts of nasty viruses. But Barbicide is also the name of a fantastic, NYC-based, modern/third-wave ska band (featuring two former members of Mephiskapheles, Brendog Tween on guitar and vocals, Mikal Reich on drums, plus Jerica Rosenblum (Hard Times, Scofflaws, Defactos) on keys and vocals, and Irena Jaroszewska on bass and backing vox) that has just released their dynamite debut EP, Fresh Cuts (digital, Pass the Virgin Music, 2019). It wouldn't be too far afield to compare Barbicide's sound and vibe with the kind of ridiculously catchy songs Reich and Tween wrote for Meph's The DEMOn tape and God Bless Satan (think "Eskamoes" "Doomsday," and "Saba"), but this is by no means a retread--yes, their music is immediately accessible, but it's wonderfully unique and bent.

Fresh Cuts is an EP of protest songs--three of them essentially anti-love along with a more traditional anti-war track--from musicians experienced enough to have seen some dreams dashed and life mow them down a few times, but they're stubborn bastards; beaten up, battle-scarred, and all the wiser/wise ass/cynical for it (Gen Xers are, after all, at the helm here). The frenetically upbeat (check out those amazing "hey-hey-hey's"!) lead track "Unlove You" is about actively extracting oneself emotionally from a relationship gone bad ages ago ("Well, it's been a long time since you broke my heart/But it ain't been long since I cried/And it feels so good getting over you/Like Lazarus when he undied"); here, the opposite of to love is to unlove. This is followed by a film noir-ish portrayal of a not-exactly-healthy-for-you girlfriend with "Jezebel" (the second Biblical reference on the EP; she, of course, was the pagan, Baal or Satan/demon-worshipping, Christian-corrupting, sexually promiscuous temptress; you can take the musician out of the satanic ska band, but can't take the satanic ska out of the musician...), but at least the singer knows the deal: "Jezebel, you're my gallows/Jezebel, you're my femme fatale/You came from somewhere deep and dark/A creature from down below/Jezebel, you're my gal." "I Don't Remember" is the back and forth tale of a marriage gone south. The wife (Rosenblum) recounts the good and bad ("Do you recall we had ten kids/Ten piles of laundry all covered in skids/Do you recall all the money spent/Have a stack of bills, not one red cent"); while the husband (Tween) mostly doesn't have a memory of anything, but finally fesses up that he remembered that he "had it all" before he lost himself in booze. It's tragically funny and all-out brutal.

Barbicide's EP bows out with a brilliant, heartfelt cover of P.F. Sloan's "Eve of Destruction" (covered most famously by the likes of The Turtles and Barry McGuire), which is an apocalyptic, anti-war, anti-nuke, and anti-racist protest track from the 1960s that captures all of America's contradictions in a nutshell--and is still incredibly relevant today. Some of the lyrics are worth quoting here: "Think of all the hate there is in Red China/Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama/You may leave here for four days in space/But when you return, it's the same old place/The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace/You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace/Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace/And you tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend/How you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction." (Even this song has cutting Biblical references about Christian hypocrisy: "You're old enough to kill, but not for voting/You don't believe in war, what's that gun you're toting?/And even the Jordan river has bodies floating...") Barbicide's Fresh Cuts is an immensely good EP--and highly recommended!

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If you're craving the sweet, late-'60 sounds of rocksteady (with lots of echo effects rolled in), you'll find The Twilights*' Hear What I Say (CD/digital, self-released, 2018) most satisfying. This 10-track album features The Twilights' really splendid, sing-along original cuts standing tall and proud alongside their marvelous takes on several rocksteady and roots reggae classics--notably Delroy Wilson's evergreen "Dancing Mood," Ken Boothe's version of Edward Heyman and Victor Young's pop standard "When I Fall in Love" (and its wild dub version, "When I Fall in Dub"!), and The Heptones' "Hypocrite." (The band, from Easton, PA, is Danny Kru Schurtman on lead vocals and melodica, Scott DeDecker on keys, Rebecca Pagliarulo on guitar and vocals, Edmond Cho on bass, guitar, and vox, and David Best on drums.)

Most of The Twilights*' own material is concerned with one's psychological mood--particularly the desire to achieve some semblance of emotional equilibrium. The musically bright, sing-song-y "Rainy Day" (which features an unexpectedly fantastic, effects-filled bridge) has lyrics that express longing for an end to episodes of depression ("In sad times, I have prayed for rain...Hide in corners/To feel gray...For the last time, let me shine again/Brighter than your mighty sun...It's going to be a rainy day/'Cause this shit's gotta change!'). The opening chords of "Gold" quote Freddie McKay's "Picture on the Wall," but then shift to a brisk, almost jaunty riddim reflecting the determination of the chorus: "Gold is in my eyes/Stars are in my head/I push it, I push it/I push until I'm dead"; but then doubt and insecurity seep in during the verses: "Things are not the way I've always dreamed/Feel away, cast away at sea/Pushing hard, 'cause that's how I still believe/People made boring by machines...Waking thoughts, you're still in my dreams/Everything's exactly what it seems...Don't go, don't go/Hold me, hold tight!" I particularly like the claustrophobic and unsettling "Panic Attack" ("Panic attack, deception's over me/Panic attack, it's something, can't you see?/No one takes it seriously...") with its choice use of off-kilter toy piano here. The album is capped off with a fierce, live, dubby version of Lee Perry and Max Romeo's "Chase the Devil" (one of the greatest songs ever written) that is simply epic! Keep your eye on this band!

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Duff Gig Review: UB40 at Sony Hall (9/26/19)

UB40 in action at Sony Hall
(Review by Steve Shafer)

This was my first time at Sony Hall, an upscale supper club-type ballroom in the basement of the Paramount Hotel, just off Times Square. Oddly, given the violent times we live in, my friends and I just walked right in and they scanned our tickets--no one patted us down at the door, made us empty our pockets and go through a metal detector, or looked in my friend's bulging backpack (I'd been to two other concerts in the previous week at Webster Hall and Central Park SummerStage, and was as thoroughly screened as if I was boarding an airplane). Similarly, the close to sold-out UB40 crowd wasn't quite what I had expected (and gave off a weird energy), comprised much more of corporate/finance-y and ex-frat boy types than the WLIR/new wave and reggae fans that I'd see at their concerts back in the day (I didn't recognize my GenX peers like I had at the B-52s/OMD/Berlin show I caught a few days ago in Central Park). And this essentially illustrates UB40's art-versus-commerce tension that's been a sticky component of their career and relationship with their fan base (it's particularly pronounced here in America), ever since the extraordinary success of their Labor of Love album in 1983. (Early in the show, there was some obnoxious guy yelling at Robin Campbell to play "Red Red Wine"; Robin replied that they were obviously going to play it toward end of night--and when they did, hundreds of hands holding cell phones shot up in the audience to record the song.)

Like many of their splintered 2 Tone-era peers, there are, of course, two versions of UB40 roaming the planet. This iteration--with original members Robin Campbell (co-vocals/guitar), 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); original saxophonist Brian Travers recently was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing treatment, so missed this tour--is the less poppy one, but they still split their set pretty evenly between their terrific original songs and their many hit (and bill-paying) pop/reggae covers. As this was their 40th anniversary tour (I had just been to The Selecter's 40th anniversary show earlier this month--great things were going on in 1979, right?), UB40 performed songs from key early albums (all of them notably political in nature: "Tyler" and "King" from their 1980 debut Signing Off; and the brilliant anti-apartheid track "Sing Our Own Song" from 1986's Rat in the Kitchen), as well as several new songs ("The Keeper," "Broken Man," Midnight Lover," "You Haven't Called," and "All We Do Is Cry") from their superb For the Many album (which we reviewed back in April), and a healthy number of their famous covers (including "Cherry Oh Baby," "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Baby," "Midnight Rider," "Kingston Town, "(I Can't Help) Falling in Love with You"--and for some reason I was very pleasantly surprised to hear The Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad").

UB40 served up a thoroughly enjoyable, well-honed performance that gave the people exactly what they wanted (at the expense of offering thrills of the unexpected). What I'd give to see them put aside their more commercial considerations and play a show solely featuring their own ace material (with tracks like "One in Ten," "Don't Let It Pass You By," "If It Happens Again," "Rat in the Kitchen," "Looking Down at My Reflection," "Don't Blame Me," "Who You Fighting For?," "Dance Until the Morning Light," "Gravy Train," "Bulldozer," "I'm Alright Jack")--the economics of it all be damned! I want to be wowed again.

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Uncut's "The Ultimate Genre Guide: 2 Tone"

(By Steve Shafer)

Apart from the absolutely fantastic Selecter/Rhoda Dakar show that I caught recently here in NYC (read my review), I've been pretty disappointed at the general lack of 2 Tone 40th anniversary events, releases, etc.--and I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this way (the half-speed remastered, billionth re-issue of The Specials' debut LP, along with the box set of re-issued 2 Tone 45s that most die-hard fans already have collected over the years are okay for newbies, but pretty thin gruel for anyone else). And, yes, we get it--a whole lot of people in these bands are still mad at each other for transgressions of varying degrees committed over the years and more than happy to continue to take public swipes at each other in the press. Perhaps it is too much to expect our musical heroes--who promoted things like tolerance, love, and unity back in the day--not to have clay feet like the rest of humanity. But in many ways, this anniversary isn't really about the 2 Tone bands and label, but the multitude of fans worldwide for whom this music is still incredibly relevant and treasured. The 2 Tone faithful would have been so happy and grateful if everyone still standing (RIP Rico, Brad, and Roger) could have temporarily put aside their differences, issued some previously unreleased music from the vaults, and played some reunion concerts in key cities around the world. You know, put some effort into it. They owe this to the fans.

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One 2 Tone 40th anniversary-related release that is definitely deserving of fans' attention is Uncut's "The Ultimate Genre Guide: 2 Tone," which contains newly written/considered overviews of each band's career (though I take enormous issue with John Lewis' trashing of The Beat's Wha'ppen?, which is one of my favorite albums of all time), as well as reprints of late '70s/early '80s pieces and interviews with all the bands from Melody Maker and NME (which are worth the price of admission in themselves!), and new articles like "The Ska Roots of 2 Tone" and "The Best 40 Ska Singles." In short, this magazine is a 2 Tone 40th anniversary souvenir book of sorts--and something that I'll be keeping on the bookshelf to refer to over time, along with all of my other ska and reggae books.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Fall 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #9

Laurel Aitken
Thursday, September 26, 2019, doors @ 6:00 pm/show @ 8:00 pm

UB40 (Robin Campbell, Brian Travers, Jimmy Brown, Earl Falconer and Norman Hassan, Duncan Campbell, Martin Meredith, Lawrence Parry and Tony Mullings)

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
Tickets: $39.50 in advance/$45 day of show
All ages

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Saturday, September 28, 2019 @ 8:30 pm

Barbicide, On Dope

An Beal Bocht Cafe
443 West 238th Street
Bronx, NY

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Saturday, September 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla 4th Anniversary Party w/The Ladrones, Brunt of It, Raise the Kicks, The Screw-Ups, The Oneness, plus DJ Gorilla

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

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Saturday, October 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Five Iron Frenzy, Mustard Plug, Mephiskapheles

Gramercy Theatre
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$26.50 in advance/$30 day of show
16+

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
$35

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Saturday, November 16, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla presents: Sgt. Scagnetti, Hans Gruber and the Die Hards, Disposable, SuptropicoMilitia HeavySound, International Override

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

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Friday, November 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville presents The Copacetics, The Penniless Loafers, Smittix, plus DJ Ryan Midnight

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

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Friday, December 20, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Slackers

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$22/18+

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Seattle-ites "The Thing" EP

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The Seattle-ites' six-track debut EP, The Thing (10" vinyl/digital, Ready to Launch Records, 2019), showcases the band's superb songwriting and musicianship, as well as their mastery of the jazz-big band-ska hybrid pioneered by the magnificent Skatalites (they cover Tommy McCook's end of the party, slow-dancer "Starry Night," which is a version of Glenn Miller's arrangement of one of the movements in Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6 in B minor") and all of the associated musicians in their orbit (like Lynn Taitt and Ernest Ranglin). So, it comes as no surprise that members of The Seattle-ites come from Seattle area trad ska acts (like The Georgetown Orbits) and classical groups (such as The Seattle Symphony!)--and each track provides ample solo opportunities for these musicians to show off their considerable chops.

The mysterious title track--named for the 1951 sci-fi monster movie or the VW jeep-like car?--immediately builds tension with a series of percussive minor chords (that are somehow reminiscent of the opening brass riffs in the 1960s British TV show "The Avengers") before releasing some it with the introduction of the song's melody that's improvised upon and returned to for the rest of the track. Both the jaunty "Sidewinder" and brisk-paced "Freedom Ska Dance" (with its fantastically crazy, almost dissonant jazz horn sequences) are dead-ringers for Skatalites originals and sure to pack the dance floor when performed live or heard via sound system. The wonderful and wittily titled "Prado for P'rez" is heavy on the mambo, while "Ska-la-Mode" is a sublime slice of vintage ska that could have been off The Scofflaws' brilliant debut. The Seattle-ites clearly invested a lot of time, creativity, care, and love in The Thing and you, the listener, receive so much in return. This EP is a true thing of beauty.

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Duff Gig Review: The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar at The Gramercy Theatre (9/11/19)

The Selecter with Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson
(Review by Steve Shafer)

With the clock quickly running out on 2 Tone's 40th anniversary year--coupled with a general dearth of related events in the USA (The Specials' Encore tour doesn't really count)--it was phenomenal to have the opportunity to catch The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar (of The Bodysnatchers and The Special AKA), both of whom put on extraordinary performances that celebrated and honored their own--and 2 Tone's--legacy, while reminding us why they and their music are still powerfully relevant all these years later. I've caught The Selecter during their two previous visits to New York City (on 9/20/2013 and 10/6/16, which I reviewed here) and have never been disappointed; they give their all, always impressing and entertaining the crowd (this evening, I danced with my friends and members of Barbicide and The Twilights the entire time). And it was an historic night--Rhoda Dakar hasn't played Gotham since 1981!

In lieu of an opening act (more on that later), Rhoda Dakar served as house DJ, spinning a great mix of old school ska and reggae that had the fans openly grooving while maintaining their desired spots down front. The Selecter then took the stage to a recording of "The Selecter" and served up a positively stellar set! Pauline Black and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson were thoroughly engaging and the rest of the band (Winston Marche on drums, "Tommy"-era Oliver Reed look-alike John Robertson on guitar, Andrew Pearson on bass, Lee Horsley on organ, and Neil Pyzer-Skeete on tenor sax) were in top form. They played the expected hits and more their 2 Tone days, including "Three Minute Hero," "On My Radio," "Out on the Streets," "Murder," "Missing Words," "Danger," "Black and Blue," "The Whisper," "Train to Skaville," "Carry Go Bring Come," and Gaps' spotlight at the mic (and fave of mine), "(Who Likes) Facing Situations."

Rhoda Dakar with The Selecter
One notable portion of The Selecter's show was sharply political, beginning with their cover of The Pioneers "Time Hard" ("Everyday, things are getting worse"), which Black aimed at both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump in her intro; followed by "Frontline," their call to action/engagement for people who think that posts on social media can address inequity and bring about societal change ("My mind is full/my heart is empty/It's hard to live/In a world of plenty/The more I see/The less I feel/You sell me dreams/But they're not real..I need to believe/In something more/Than I wanna stay free"--which also references the police killing of Eric Garner: "I saw a man/Punched off his feet...He shouted out/'Now, I can't breathe!'"--from their Daylight album, reviewed by me here). They then moved on to the devastating "Breakdown," their "Ghost Town" of sorts for the 21st century from Subculture (reviewed here), which is about how societal and government institutional dysfunction/failure to address systemic racism and poverty leads to the extrajudicial police killings of unarmed black people (the band bowed their heads as a short tape was played listing some of the names of the black boys, men, and women unjustly killed by the police in the UK and USA)--and finished with their haunting anti-gun/anti-revenge/anti-violence song, "Celebrate the Bullet" ("Put your finger on the trigger/But you don't have to pull it/'Cos you know it won't bring them/Back to you"). The cumulative effect of this sequence of tracks was stunning.

After performing a blistering rendition of "On My Radio" (Pauline commented that back in the day only Rodney Bingenheimer at KROQ played ska on the radio in America--though WLIR showed them lots of love in the NYC area, too!), Pauline and Gaps left the stage for the band to back Rhoda Dakar for her two hits with The Bodysnatchers, "Let's Do Rock Steady" and the gender-parity asserting "Ruder Than You" (co-written by the band with Gaz Mayall). Dakar was in fantastic voice and it was thrilling to (finally!) see and hear the other--and essential--2 Tone female singer live in person. My only complaint would be that I would have loved to have heard a few more songs from her (several years ago, Dakar recorded an album of Bodysnatchers tracks, and has released a few EPs of new material, all very highly recommended).

Pauline and Gaps then returned to the stage with Rhoda and all three sang a raucous version of "Too Much Pressure, which incorporated Toots and the Maytals "Pressure Drop."

Rhoda Dakar with members of the FDNY.
Since they were playing in New York City on the anniversary of 9/11, The Selecter had arranged for union members of the FDNY to come on stage, where Dakar read a message of support, thanks, and solidarity from their firefighting colleagues in London. The night concluded with a spirited rendition of Prince Buster's "Madness." On a day commemorating the missing among us, left unspoken--given the superseding and momentous significance of this date--was the 2 Tone musician heartbreakingly absent from this tour: Ranking Roger (whose permutation of The Beat had toured with The Selecter in the UK last year and was scheduled to visit America, had his cancer not intervened; Roger very much had hoped to participate in 2 Tone 40th anniversary events like this). A purloined Selecter set list indicates that on some dates of this tour, the band is playing "Can't Get Used to Losing You" in his memory.

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Afterward, at the merch table, where Pauline, Gaps, and Rhoda are more than happy to chat, sign things, and pose for pictures with fans, I overheard Rhoda responding to compliment on her singing on The Special AKA's In the Studio by telling a fan that to this day she's never listened to that record (still a shock to hear, even though I know she's stated in the past that the recording of that album was such a torturous, drawn-out process that she could never bear hearing it; her work on In the Studio is absolutely fantastic and completely essential to its success--hopefully someday she can find a way to put that all aside and focus on the brilliance of the music she helped create).

The Duff Guide with the wonderful Rhoda Dakar
When I went to buy a Selecter shirt (I bought a Bodysnatchers one from Rhoda, too), Pauline gave me the side-eye and commented on my bootleg 2 Tone tour t-shirt (see picture at right)--though in all fairness the rampant, out-of-control bootlegging of all things 2 Tone back in '79/'80 certainly denied all involved of rightfully deserved income and was one of the reasons The Selecter left 2 Tone after their first LP (I bashfully apologized and pointed out how I was in the act of buying an official Selecter shirt from her!). I also managed to squeeze in a short conversation with Gaps, who's always really lovely to talk with.

If the Selecter/Rhoda Dakar 40th Anniversary Tour comes anywhere near you (dates below), do not miss them (also, bring some extra bucks to buy some merch, as it really helps to make tours like this one financially feasible--musicians need to earn a living, too; also note that The Selecter has vinyl copies of their two most recent albums with them for sale, if you don't already have them).

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The Selecter/Rhoda Dakar 40th Anniversary Tour US Dates

9/12/19: Sommerville, MA - Once Ballroom
9/13/19: Kent, OH - The Kent Stage
**9/14/19: Chicago, IL - Riot Fest (The Selecter performs the Too Much Pressure album)
***Also on 9/14/19: Chicago, IL - Reggie's (Rhoda Dakar backed by The Crombies)
9/15/19: Denver, CO - Marquis Theater
9/17/19: San Francisco, CA - Mezzanine
9/18/19: San Diego, CA - Casbah
9/19/19: San Diego, CA - Casbah
9/20/19: Hermosa Beach, CA - Saint Rocke
9/21/19: Pomona, CA - The Glass House

Note: The Chicago dates above are not officially part of this tour--The Selecter is at Riot Fest without Dakar, who plays at Reggie's backed by The Crombies!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Lee "Scratch" Perry "Rainford"

Lee Perry is depicted in three poses, riding horses into battle: one brandishing a sword, another a bow and arrow, and the third urging his followers forward into the fight.(Review by Steve Shafer)

I have to admit that following 2018's excellent, Black Ark-sounding The Black Album (with ace producer Daniel Boyle), it took repeated plays for me to get into Lee Scratch Perry's latest album Rainford (CD/LP/digital, On-U Sound, 2019), co-produced and co-written with On-U's Adrian Sherwood. Now that all of these tracks are firmly embedded in my head, I've found that it's very much on par with Perry and Sherwood's phenomenal, left-field classic Time Boom X De Devil Dead, recorded with Dub Syndicate in 1987 (Sherwood and Perry's most recent collaboration was The Mighty Upsetter in 2008). Like Time Boom, Rainford is filled with brilliantly inventive sonic weirdness married to quirkily catchy and compelling reggae tunes--and is sure to be recognized as another essential Lee Scratch Perry album in a catalogue bursting with them.

As expected, Rainford contains common Perry themes (driving out/vanquishing evil; toppling the powerful and selfish rich--see the album artwork) and messages (of black empowerment, anti-racism, and the wisdom of Jah's righteous ways). And as always, there's great substance beneath the seemingly mad surface of exhortations and vocal sound effects (Perry mimicking the cries of babies, the bleats, neighs, and grunts of various animals, and horror movie screams). Perry knows full well that his decades-long reputation for being a bit of a lunatic gives him considerable freedom (or lee-way!) to express some heavy and--what establishment society might consider to be--dangerous ideas and opinions.

Album opener "Cricket on the Moon" begins with Perry reciting, "'Repent,' says the cricket on the moon/'Repent,' says the cricket in the room...Mercy call and judgment come." I've never encountered this expression before, but apparently a moon cricket is an ugly racial slur. In this context, Perry is subverting an aspect of this racist trope--essentially, a black person in a sea of whites--as a metaphor for rastas/Jamaicans/people of color struggling against the dominant, sinful Babylon ("I'm the man in the moon/Who kicked the Pope in him raas"). In addition, there could be another layer of meaning rolled into this song, as 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong being the first (white) human to step on the moon (when researching this epithet, I also found that supposedly Native Americans have used it as a derogatory term for white people). Naturally, cricket-like chirps are incorporated throughout this wonderful, loping reggae track.

The slightly off-kilter "Run Evil Spirit" is in the same vein of Perry and Max Romeo's "Chase the Devil," with various upstanding rastas (whose religiously proscribed diet includes a lot of fish--hence, "fisherman," with its Biblical echoes) and super humans (Perry refers to the "Bionic Man" at one point!) joining forces to rid the land of wickedness: "Fisherman come/Babylon run...Beggars, users, run/Superman a come/And I've told him what you've done, evil spirit/I said you run/Obeah man a run/Spiderman a come..." Unlike most of the mid-tempo tracks on Rainford, the propulsive, almost hypnotic "Makumba Rock" has the power to pack dance floors and refers to the Brazilian via Africa religion of Macumba: "Voodoo rock/Zodiac rock/Makumba rock...From roots asylum/This is mental zodiac/Are you ready for the black magic?"

Perry pictures himself as captain of a futuristic Black Star Liner on "African Starship" (which revisits/reworks Creation Rebel's 1978 Starship Africa), repatriating the black diaspora to a new Ethiopia somewhere out on the final frontier. While, the hard-hitting, militant-sounding "Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers" envisions Perry entering the nightmarish, fever dreams of the rich to scuttle their rapacious, predatory scams before they can unleash them in reality and cause good people to suffer ("In the land of dreams/The greed is dead/In the land of schemes/Settle dem debts/In the land of flesh and bones/More than stones and bones/Rocklin' horror movies and scary scenes/A horrible place...We're going to have a black magic for you tonight...We are inviting you down to meet your debt...").

Perhaps the most extraordinary song on the record is "Autobiography of The Upsetter," which is exactly what the title indicates. This is Lee "Scratch" Perry's life's story ("This is my undead biographicie and prophesy"), told with surprising candor, self-awareness, and humor. Perry recounts his familial origins ("My Father was a Freemason, my Mother was an Eto Queen/They share a dream together/Said they're going to make a Godly being"; Rainford is Perry's actual first name); the many highlights of his extensive musical career (and related music industry axes to grind--the listener is reminded that Perry still believes Island's Chris Blackwell to be a bloodsucker); even the episodes of his life where people questioned his sanity, when he was actually profoundly troubled by pernicious goings on in the world around him ("People thought I was mad... Burn down Black Ark/Too much iniquity, too much outerquity was in the Ark/People thought I was crazy...walking backward in Spanish Town"). In sum, it recaps his incredible, visionary artistic legacy, which Perry continues to augment with records like Rainford: "I came up with the Ark, with salvation/And let the people dance/And give the people a chance/I am the Upsetter/Super Ape/Dub organizer, music striver/Pipecock Jackson/Lee Scratch Perry."

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Friday, September 6, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Prince Fatty featuring Big Youth and George Dekker "Everything Crash"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

"Everything Crash" is the fantastic second single released in advance of Prince Fatty's forthcoming In the Viper's Shadow album, which will be issued on October 4, 2019 and can be pre-ordered now (the first single off this record was "Get Ready," which we reviewed here). This track, of course, is a cover of The Ethiopians' 1969 hit (inspired by public worker strikes during an economic crisis in JA in '68: "Firemen strike/Water men strike/Telephone company, too/Down to the policemen, too...What gone bad a-morning/Can't come good a-evening, whoa/Every day carry bucket to the well/One day the bottom must drop out"), but in this version--featuring the always brilliant Big Youth and wonderfully mellifluous George Dekker (The Pioneers)--the concern is about global environmental collapse due to humanity's incredibly poor stewardship/outright abuse of the planet. Big Youth impassionedly chats: "People need to take a check and look at what we do/Take a likkle stop and look at what we do/Leaders of government/Leaders of war...We need to take of our nuclear waste/We need to find a better place/Global reasoning/This is global argument/There's so much emission in the air..." (he goes on to decry fluoride in the water, though that seems pretty low on the list of extraordinary damage we've done to the land, air, and other living things, but his point is still well-taken--the water's not pure and clean). With this track, Prince Fatty, George Dekker, and Big Youth have created an "Armagideon Time" of sorts for our man-made global warming Anthropocene era. As always, this is a top Prince Fatty production and signals just how great his In the Viper's Shadow is likely to be...

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Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Fall 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #8

Photo: John Coles 
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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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Black Uhuru

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
$25 in advance/$30 day of show
All ages

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Friday, September 20, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Toasters, Hub City Stompers, 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, September 26, 2019, doors @ 6:00 pm/show @ 8:00 pm

UB40 (Robin Campbell, Brian Travers, Jimmy Brown, Earl Falconer and Norman Hassan, Duncan Campbell, Martin Meredith, Lawrence Parry and Tony Mullings)

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
Tickets: $39.50 in advance/$45 day of show
All ages

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Saturday, September 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla 4th Anniversary Party w/The Ladrones, Brunt of It, Raise the Kicks, The Screw-Ups, The Oneness, plus DJ Gorilla

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

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Saturday, October 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Five Iron Frenzy, Mustard Plug, Mephiskapheles

Gramercy Theatre
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$26.50 in advance/$30 day of show
16+

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Sony Hall
235 W 46th Street
New York, NY
$35

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Friday, November 22, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville presents The Penniless Loafers, Smittix, plus DJ Ryan Midnight

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

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Friday, December 20, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Slackers

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$22/18+

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Duff Review: "Memoirs of a Ska Librarian: The History of Rude Skazine"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

From our vantage point in time, it's kind of quaint to imagine/remember a time before the internet and social media, when information about non-mainstream bands was sometimes nearly impossible to come by. But, thanks to the late '70s punk DIY ethos that helped spawn zine culture (see Punk, Sniffin' Glue, Jamming, etc.), fans of underground sounds and scenes from the mid-'70s on strived to remedy that dilemma by creating their own means of disseminating band news, interviews, and reviews, filling a void that the establishment music press likely didn't know existed (or didn't deem profitable enough to cover or care about).

For the late '80s/early '90s ska scene, skazines were crucial lifelines to what was going on outside one's own limited sphere of experience and knowledge. Apart from a printed catalogue from an indie label, a flyer for a show on a telephone pole or in a record store window, or second-hand info via a ska-obsessed friend, there was virtually no other source of ska info than a zine (I first became involved in the ska scene by writing reviews for the Bakersfield, CA-based skazine Roughneck Business back in 1990). Since the mid-to-late '80s British ska scene (The Loafers, Potato 5, Laurel Aitken, Deltones, Trojans, Maroon Town, Hotknives, Riffs, Capone and the Bullets, King Hammond, Bad Manners, etc.) had a big jump on its American counterpart (which didn't really get its act together nationally until 1993-1994; earlier in the 1980s, ska flourished in a few US cities, but these scenes were largely parochial and isolated), the UK skazines cropped up a bit earlier. In addition to George Marshall's fantastic, but much shorter-lived, Zoot!, the other absolutely essential UK skazine of this period was Kevin Flowerdew's Rude. While most skazines reported on a local or regional scene, Rude endeavored to cover it all--and was by far the greatest source of international ska news, bar none.

Originally written on a typewriter, then cut and pasted, and xeroxed, each issue of Rude offered dozens upon dozens of short paragraphs conveying the latest news relating to ska bands' tours and goings on, and/or brief reviews of new releases. It was a wealth of precious ska info contained on two (or more) folded and stapled A4 sheets of paper that tipped you off to your next favorite band or album (from the next town over or the other side of the world) that you never knew existed.

Kevin Flowerdew's Memoirs of a Ska Librarian: The History of Rude Skazine (5 zines printed on glossy paper, Do The Dog Music, 2019) celebrates the best of Rude, which was published between 1989 and 1996 (when Flowerdew changed the name of the zine to Do The Dog, to match the ska label that he had launched). Memoirs focuses on Flowerdew's intro to ska (via 2 Tone, of course), the origins and history of Rude, as well as his front row experience witnessing the rise of The Loafers (his brother Sean's first band--he'd later be in Special Beat and Pama International, and created the London International Ska Festival in 1988, which continues to this day). Flowerdew wasn't just documenting and promoting the scene, he was urged to form his own group by the "Godfather of Ska" himself, Laurel Aitken (his sage advice: "If you love ska, you should start your own band")--and quickly followed Aitken's directive by founding Bakesys Midday Joggers (later shortened to The Bakesys), whose history and exploits are also recounted here. Memoirs of a Ska Librarian is accompanied by four special issues of Rude--each covering two-year periods from 1989-1990, 1991-1992, 1993-1994, and 1995-1996--and reprinting the best bits from those respective years. In particular, it's fascinating to watch the American ska scene explode as you turn these pages.

Rude had an astonishingly broad reach and was incredibly influential--so much so, that back when I was doing promotions for Moon Ska Records, Rude was always amongst the first batch of promo copies of a new release that I'd mail out (in the early years, these were cassettes!). At a time when people either had to (proactively) mail-order an album or head out to their local record shop to buy it, Rude's review was vital to getting the word out to ska fans (who would hopefully support our bands with their hard-earned cash!). What was particularly impressive was how Flowerdew gave everyone a fair shake--if a band took the time to send him a letter or package, he'd write about them in the next issue. It was a very democratic approach; new bands on the block received the same coverage as established ones and made Rude's scope all the more comprehensive. And that's what makes the librarian comparison in the title so apt--with Rude, Flowerdew was cataloging that era of ska like no one else on the planet.

Whether you lived through this time as a ska fan or missed out on it due to the timing of your birth or other circumstances, you'll find Memoirs of a Ska Librarian and the special editions of Rude a truly great read that will likely spur you to dig out albums from this period to play or track down copies of records you definitely now need on Discogs. But they also help document this pre-digital era in ska, so much of which only remains in fans' memories, record collections, and in shoeboxes in closets--and remind one of how the 1990s ska scene would have been significantly diminished/hampered had this amazing skazine not existed.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Laurel Aitken and The Skatalites "Ska Titans" Reissue

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Even though it had been recorded in 1996, by the time the master tapes for Ska Titans had been licensed to Moon Ska Records and slated for release in 1999, the writing was on the wall for the label. (Full disclosure: I was the director of promotions, marketing, and production for Moon from 1991-1999.) Troubling warning signs portending a significant downturn for Moon's future prospects were evident by the summer of '98 and cost-cutting measures were soon implemented across-the-board. Much to the label's detriment, one of these restrictions was not hiring freelance graphic designers to create CD artwork for new releases. By this point in Moon's history, we had built up a roster of pretty amazing designers to use whenever one of our bands didn't provide us with artwork for their release, including Gile Ribiero (see The Bluebeat's Dance with Me, Laurel Aitken's The Bluebeat YearsSkarmageddon 3, and more), Mike Reddy (The Skalars' Skoolin' with The Skalars, Bad Manners' Heavy Petting, Tricia and The Supersonics' King Bravo Selects Ska Authentic, Volume 2, Nihon Ska Dansu, and more), Jeremy Donelson (Love and Affection: Ska in the Key of Love, Ska United), Jordan "Jafo" Worley (Skankaholics Unanimous, The Toasters' Don't Let the Bastards Grind You DownChristma-Ska), and the late Andrew Blanco AKA King Chango (The Toasters' Dub 56 and Hard Band for Dead, Skarmageddon, and more). So, it was painful to see what was created in-house for the cover of Ska Titans (by someone who it was later discovered stole a fair amount of money from the label over the years)--a pixelated close-up of tree bark with text over it. Not one of our finer moments by far.

This shabby cover artwork--for an album released at a point after Billboard, Alternative Press, and others had declared ska "dead" (which had triggered a tsunami of returns from record chains and mom and pops; whenever the UPS truck showed up, it was to bring box after box in, instead of out)--worked overtime against the amazing music by ska's founders contained inside, which was such a shame, particularly considering Moon's championing of Laurel Aitken and various Skatalites (Tommy McCook, Lloyd Brevett, Lester Sterling, Tricia and The Supersonics) through its series of "Ska Authentic" releases (and heavy tour support for Laurel Aitken) in the US. Needless to say, at the time, this album sold poorly. Fortunately, Black Butcher Classic's vinyl-only issue (the first time this has been released on LP) available in the USA through Jump Up, provides this album with excellent retro packaging (though oddly devoid of any credits or liner notes), which helps rectify the sins of the original and should help entice the ska faithful to explore the wonderful ska music within.

Ska Titans was recorded during the 1996 European Ska Splash Skatalites/Laurel Aitken tour (both acts were represented by the same manager) and marked the first time they had recorded together since 1963. During Aitken's '63 visit to JA from the UK, he and The Skatalites recorded twelve of his songs at Ken Khouri's Federal Studio at Laurel's expense--and he made sure never to let the masters that he owned out of sight, for fear of being bootlegged; all tracks were released in '63 and '64 on a series of Rio and Black Swan singles that were later collected and issued in 1990 by Unicorn Records as Laurel Aitken with The Skatalites, The Legendary Godfather of Ska, Volume 3. For the Ska Splash tour and Ska Titans recording, a good number of the original Skatalites were still around and active, including Roland Alphonso, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevett, and Lloyd Knibb (all accompanied by newer members Devon James, Will Clark, and Nathan Breedlove).

Ska Titans features re-recordings of six Aitken originals (including his classics "It's Too Late," "Rude Boy Dream," "Bad Minded Woman"--which he first taped with The Skatalites during that '63 session--and the epic, dubby, and moody "Summertime" ("...in the ghetto"), which is a version of his "Who Sey," from his awesome Superstar album), the perennial "In the Mood for Ska," a cover of The Four Tops'/Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Same Old Song," and a few live recordings taped in Amsterdam, including a Don Drummond composition ("Confucius") and Doreen Schaffer doing vocals on Aitken's "Sugar Sugar." Everyone's performances, both in studio and live, are top-notch and the studio recordings are brilliantly warm and vibrant (thanks to Victor Rice, who mixed this album), while the live tracks have a wonderful clarity and immediacy to them, as if you were in the venue as this happened.

Ska Titans would have fared better had it released earlier in that decade (and, of course, with better packaging), but it remains a triumph--a testament to the incredible talents of Laurel Aitken and The Skatalites, the originators and elder statesmen of ska, who continued to burn brightly throughout the 1990s. If you're a fan, you need this album in your collection.

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Various Artists "Sock It To Me!" and Reggae Roast's "Sensi Skank Reloaded"

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

As part of its "Spirit of '69" campaign marking the 50 years since a slew of their skinhead reggae singles conquered the British charts--think of top 10 hits like Desmond Dekker and The Aces' "Israelites" and "It Mek," Harry J All Stars' "Liquidator," The Upsetters' "Return of Django," and Jimmy Cliff's "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" ('69 also saw the launch of their excellent series of Tighten Up compilations), Trojan Records has released Sock It To Me: Boss Reggae Rarities In The Spirit Of 69 (CD/LP, Trojan Records, 2019; the CD contains 13 more tracks than the LP) a collection of hard-to-find skinhead reggae tracks that surprisingly have not reissued by this king of reissues since they first saw the light of the day back in 1969. One might assume that these cuts were buried in the vaults for reasons of quality control, but most of the songs are good-to-great, pleasant mid-tempo head-nodders, though not exactly the pulse-raising dance floor stompers promised on the compilation's packaging. Having said that, notable tracks on the LP include The Sparkers' "Israel" (which could be about Masada: "In a bunch, Lord/Them tried to kill dem/Some of dem, Lord/Don't need a gun, yeah/But never broke/Before Bad-a-lon"); The Impersonators' hauntingly plaintive "I've Tried Before"; Hopeton Lewis and The Sexy Girls' slack "Sexy Woman" ("Go on woman, let them wreck your pum pum/All you need is a big fat man"); Tommy McCook and The Supersonics' instrumental "Shangul" (AKA "Shange The Whipman"); Lloyd Charmers and The Hippy Boys "Long About Now" (which Harry Belafonte first recorded in 1962; Charmers' produced a version for Bruce Ruffin and obviously recorded his own take, too); and Anonymously Yours' defunkified skinhead reggae take on The Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing."  Liner notes to shed some light on/give some context to the makers and origins of these songs would have been a big plus (who was involved with Anonymously Yours and how did Hopeton Lewis come to record a rude reggae track?).

One of the more intriguing aspects of Trojan's 50th anniversary last year was the introduction of a new imprint, Trojan Reloaded, whose mission is to release new and current reggae (The Duff Guide to ska reviewed their first single here). So far, this label has focused on one of the UK's top sound systems--Reggae Roast--and dancehall (as opposed to other reggae sounds). The latest physical release from Trojan Reloaded is "Sensi Skank Reloaded" (10" vinyl EP, Trojan Reloaded, 2019), which revisits/remixes Reggae Roast's 2011 digital hit--a hymn to ganja: "Babylon want to take my herb/It can't keep my herb, oh no!" Both the original and remixed versions are new to me--I have to admit to being partial to the former (it has a deeper, more powerful groove to it)--but I'm sure dancehall fans will jump at the chance to have this on vinyl.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Upcoming 2 Tone 40th Anniversary Releases

We're already more than halfway through 2 Tone's 40th anniversary year and the 2 Tone faithful have seen precious little in terms of celebratory concerts and anniversary-related releases. No doubt, the fallings out between members of each of the driving bands behind this label have put the kibosh on anything extraordinary happening, which is certainly a shame.

However, just before the calendar year runs out, Chrysalis will be issuing two releases which will be of some interest to obsessive collectors. The first is a remastered and cut at half speed on double vinyl at 45 rpm edition of Specials' debut LP to be released on October 11, 2019. The second and somewhat more interesting release is Two Tone 7" Treasures, a collection of twelve 7” picture sleeve singles selected by Jerry Dammers, which represent his favorite singles released on the label between 1979 and 1984. These singles are "presented with their original sleeve designs in a bespoke 1960s style carry case along with a Two Tone 7” slipmat and an art card signed by Jerry Dammers." Pre-orders are being now being taken at Rough Trade (UK) and it will be available on November 15, 2019; this box set is retailing for 90 pounds sterling. (None of the selections are rarities and long-time fans will have all of them, though the add-ons are very cool; notable omissions from this collection are The Specials' "Rat Race" and "Do Nothing" singles, and Rico and The Special AKA's "Jungle Music.")

One supposes that an expanded, two LP version of the Dance Craze soundtrack or a reissue of Rico's incredible (and hard to find) Jama Rico would be too much to ask for (and is there really nothing good left unreleased in the vaults?).

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Singles Going Skanking: Le Grand Miércoles' "Lone Gunman Theory" b/w "I've Got to Surf Away" and Ska Jazz Messengers' "Mil Veces No" b/w "Mil Veces Dub"

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Le Grand Miércoles "Lone Gunman Theory" b/w "I've Got to Surf Away" (7" vinyl picture sleeve single, Liquidator Music, 2019): The latest single from Le Grand Miércoles serves up yet more amazing surf-ska-rocksteady (they've labeled it "surf steady") from this Spanish ska supergroup (with members of The Malarians, Dr. Jau, Pataconas, The Offbeaters, and the Golden Singles band). "Lone Gunman Theory" (which, of course, refers to the Warren Commission's official determination that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin involved in JFK's killing and that there wasn't a conspiracy to assassinate the president) is a sprightly, if moody (and kind of laid back for the band), organ-centric instrumental. The flip side revisits their incredible, supercharged cover of John Holt's "Man Next Door" from their fantastic 2014 Ghost Cowboys album (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here), this time adding--intentionally or not--slightly Elvis-sounding vocals to great effect. Oddly, they don't go the nine yards and revise the lyrics from "I've got to get away from here" to "I've got to surf away from here..." Marvelous stuff, nonetheless!

Ska Jazz Messengers "Mil Veces No" b/w "Mil Veces Dub" (7" vinyl picture sleeve single, Liquidator Music, 2019): This is the excellent debut single from this Venezuelan band, in advance of their first album, which is slated to be released later in 2019. "Mil Veces No" ("A Thousand Times No") is a 1969 pop-soul b-side by Venezuelan pop group Las Cuatro Monedas (The Four Coins) about being once bitten, twice shy ("I was in love with you/and suffered loving you like that/I don't want to repeat it") and is transformed into a wonderful Skatalites-like track by the Ska Jazz Messengers. The dub on side b is more of a straight-up instrumental version with some echo effects mixed in, which is fine, but including another new or previously unavailable track might have been a better move (like their awesome cover of Pharell William's "Happy" from a few years ago). Having said that, this single is a compelling teaser for their new album!

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Prince Fatty featuring Big Youth and George Dekker "Get Ready" b/w "Get Ready Dub"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Prince Fatty featuring Big Youth and George Dekker "Get Ready" b/w "Get Ready Dub" (7" vinyl single/digital, Evergreen Recordings, 2019): This extraordinary 1966 Smokey Robinson-penned and produced track for The Temptations--one of the defining songs of the 1960s (and for Motown)--has a brilliant, menacing edge to the bass and horn lines that belies the subtext to the chorus, "Get ready, 'cause here I come," which (apart from the double-entendre) was clearly a message of black empowerment and support for the civil rights movement (and probably a nod to Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" of a year earlier). The white radio and TV powers that be--and many white teenage Motown fans--took the love song lyrics at face value (and for most of the '60s, Motown head Berry Gordy didn't want any overtly controversial lyrics getting in the way of record sales), but there was another nation of receptive ears receiving the signal loud and clear. Prince Fatty's take on this soul classic (which follows recent covers of Roy Ayers' "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" and William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful for What You've Got") with the amazing George Dekker singing Eddie Kendrick's falsetto lead and Big Youth augmenting it all with his head-over-heels DJ chatting ("Maybe we could settle down/If you have children/I've got some/But we could have some more...10 to 10/This love will never really end/10 to 10/You'll never fall in love again") presents it as a straight-up love song--and he gives it the usual, fantastic Prince Fatty production. But given the times, perhaps it would have been even better if Big Youth had emphasized the hidden anti-racist aspect of the original and chatted about combating white supremacy to make the world a better place for his woman and kids...

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