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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