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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