Concert review by JD Alvarez
A couple years back, I wanted to catch an old friend who was playing at the Grove of Anaheim. The show featured two icons of ska, Reel Big Fish and the English Beat. It had been a while since I had last chatted with Dave Wakeling, so I was looking forward to the show. The ska icons put on a very high energy and fun show. Both bands displayed a flash of showmanship I had not seen in years. Aaron Barrett and Dave Wakeling put on a show that reminded me of the first concert I ever went to.
In 1979 I got to see Maurice White and Philip Bailey in their prime. They were in a band called Earth Wind and Fire. The next year I caught Kool and the Gang and a few years after that, my first ska show with the Untouchables. Granted, the genre’s are completely different, but the high positive energy and showmanship run hand and hand. At 18, I thought that was what concerts would always be like; so much for youthful thinking.
A funny thing happened at that show. I was chatting with a few people and I ran into Eric Zamora. I recall Eric was in a band back in the day called Save Ferris. When I asked him what he was up to, he said he was in a new band. The band comprised of former members of Save Ferris and No Doubt… they call themselves Starpool. As I normally do with musicians, we exchanged numbers and e-mail addresses and chatted about catching one of their shows. Unfortunately, my schedule got busier and busier and I wasn’t able to immediately catch Starpool.
About a year ago, I was interviewing a band called Half Past Two. Nice guys, they are also in the ska scene. As we discussed the current state of ska, I asked them what old school bands inspired them to keep plugging away until their Grammy comes calling. They laughed, then mentioned bands like Reel Big Fish, The English Beat, The Specials, Bad Manners, Rancid and a band called Starpool. As luck would have it, they had contact info and I was able to get a hold of a cat named Brian Mashburn.
It turned out Starpool was scheduled to do a show at the House Of Blues in Anaheim a few weeks later. I had just been given an assignment to write a feature article on the current state of ska music. Since this band had somewhat of a storied past, and roots in ska, it seemed like perfect timing so I though I would check them out. I got to meet the band, chat with them and was also introduced to another ska band called The Suburban Legends. Since I was there anyway, I thought I’d check out both bands. The performances by both bands were electrifying. I was very impressed by the talents of former No Doubt front man and Starpool’s lead singer (Alan Meade). I was also impressed by the horn section. The horns were sharp, reminiscent of the horns I heard the last time I saw Oingo Boingo perform on Halloween night several years ago. Although they play ska, they have a sound that is uniquely their own. Their performance was so pleasantly surprising, and fun… it literally caught me off guard. I decided that I needed to see them again. I wanted to make sure they were the real deal and I didn’t just get caught up in an Earth, Wind and Fire nostalgic moment.
So I started to do a little research. Terry Nash of New Rock Magazine describes Starpool as “A musical group made up by seven friends who play a twisted blend of Rock, Reggae, Funk with the occasional twist of ska and world beat to the delight of everyone who has the chance to see them perform live. Fronted by one of the most endearing and entertaining vocalist to have performed in years, and backed by an all star cast of musicians.”
As I got to know the band over the next few weeks, I was taken by their generosity and genuine good nature. Brian Mashburn (lead guitar) gave me access to back stories, and anything I needed. We discussed how they self produce their own music, and chatted about other bands they had played with over the years. I really enjoyed the story about the bands name. The story was that Tbone Willy (trombone) would host parties at his house when they were together as Save Ferris. Everybody and anybody in the ska world would attend some of these parties. As the years go on, this portion of the story will most likely turn into ska lore. That is, Willy’s house had a unique star shaped pool. So when it was time to go to Willy’s place, everyone was headed for the star pool.
Their next show I could catch would be at the newly renovated Yost Theater in Santa Ana, California. So it was now September 2, 2011 and I took all my notes, my photographer and headed down to the Yost. As for the Yost, it is impressive. Not long ago the theater was in very poor condition and badly needed a facelift. Now it stands up to any other OC venue, the acoustics work well at the new theater.
This show also featured some up and coming bands, such as Save the Swim Team and HB Surround Sound. I don’t know what it is about these ska shows, I seem to be pleasantly surprised by somebody. Keep an eye out for HB Surround Sound, they are good.
So I was ready for Starpool, I was prepared to listen to every note, critique the vocals and watch each dance move they made. The show started and they opened with “You Want It, Start Again and Despise.” The fans loved the sound, and the interaction with the crowd got them to singing and skakin’ immediately.
I listened to the horns again, and they were just as sharp as they were at the House Of Blues. So sharp, Danny Elfman himself would have given it a thumbs up. Evan Kilbourne impressed me with his drumming, he was the heartbeat of the show. He kept the songs in good timing, even a few musicians backstage commented how good he was. Mashburn and Uechi were flawless, Al’s vocals and dancing was electric. Their enthusiasm and passion for their music was evident. It wasn’t long into the performance that I stopped thinking about Maurice White and Philip Bailey. I quickly decided these guys are the real deal, their act was nothing short of mesmerizing.
Just when I thought I had seen what I came to see, Al brought out their surprise guest singer Katrina Kinzler. She is a recurring guest singer with Reel Big Fish and featured in RBF’s re-recording of “She Has A Girlfriend Now.” Meade and Kinzler sang a duet of the No Doubt classic “Up Yours.” Their performance was amazing, Katrina’s vocals and dancing were jaw dropping. How she managed to stay on her feet with the heels she had on would be an accomplishment in itself for anyone.
They also broke out with The Specials mod-ska classic “Nite Klub.” It was so good, I think Terry Hall and Neville Staple would have smiled if they heard it. The cover of this song was about the best I have heard in some time. They followed with what seemed to be the crowd favorite, their original song “It’s Alright.”
They ended the show with what is quickly becoming a crowd favorite, the “Tbone Willy” song! The show was now interactive, a regular hootenanny. In traditional Tbone Willy style, he found his way into the crowd. The fans quickly swallowed him up and it became a Tbone Willy crowd surfing mosh-pit with Willy as their pied piper; it was quite the sight. They segwayed into a cover of the Isley Brothers, “Shout!” In the end, it was a very good night to be a fan of good music and entertainment. Everyone at the Yost got a glimpse of what it was like to go to a party at the star pool.
Starpool plays their own unique blend of rock, traditional ska, mod-ska and punk-ska. They proved to be a very professional band with an artistry that you need to experience to appreciate. If you love ska, or just good music, check out Starpool. You won’t be disappointed.
Starpool features: Alan Meade (lead vocals), Brian Mashburn (lead guitar / back-up vocals), Bill Uechi (bass), Tbone Willy (trombone), Eric Zamora (sax / back-up vocals), Oliver Zavala (trumpet / back-up vocals) and Evan Kilbourne (drums).
For more information on the band, go to www.starpoolmusic.com, and you can also find their music on iTunes.