Concert review by JD Alvarez
In the 60’s, the Beach Boys popularized the Southern California beach scene and brought the sound of the lifestyle to the masses. In the late 80’s, the Third Wave of Ska was in affect, but even with that there was another event that introduced middle America to the beach lifestyle and this time, they heard some ska music. That was by way of the 1987 film entitled Back to the Beach with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. This film also featured an up and coming ska band called Fishbone. This film introduced the middle to ska via Fishbone’s cover of the Desmond Dekker classic, Jamaica ska.
If you ask most folks what ska is, you’ll get an interesting response. You may be surprised that most don’t know. The people I asked at Downtown Disney were short of words, one guy mentioned the Millie Small cover of My Girl Lollipop. A few others mentioned the Annette and Frankie movie. Despite all the great music from the Two-Tone movement and the Third Wave of Ska, what you may hear from someone like Joe the Plummer is a reference to Jamaica ska a-la Fishbone. He may also give you an Our House reference (by Madness). If he’s really cool, he may give you a One Step Beyond (also by Madness) or an English Beat reference. Now it’s 2012, and ska bands have evolved by leaps and bounds. Over the last three decades ska has been infused by mod, punk, rock and pop influences. In short, today’s ska groups don’t sound like anyone Frankie or Annette would recognize.
This year, the beach lifestyle and catchy sound of ska hit Orange County once again. Featuring some of the best sounds in the genre, the Ska Luau II rolled into town and hit the House of Blues, Anaheim on December 30th, 2011. The show included the San Diego-based Skank Agents, OC’s own Half Past Two, Suburban Legends and the featured act Starpool.
The HOB was the site of last year’s inaugural Ska Luau, and this year, the place looked like a scene literally out of Back to the Beach. The place was sporting totem polls, tiki torches, hula skirts and enough bad Hawaiian shirts to make your head spin. Following last year’s show, and what may be an evolving tradition, the show was opened by the Magnolia Polynesian Club. They provided pre-show entertainment with some traditional Polynesian songs and dances; an appropriate opening to set the mood for the show.
With a capacity crowd looking on, first up was San Diego’s favorite ska-sons, the Skank Agents. Best described as a horn inspired Ska-Pop-Punk band, they have been touring all over the place in 2011′. Each band member was able to showcase their talents and most of all, brought a fresh sound that opened a lot of eyes. The band features Wade Morris, Nick Isenhouer, Kevin Rogers, Matt Smith, Steve Sly, Alex Heath, Scott Woods and Lucas Moore. A very good opening act.
Next up was OC darlings Half Past Two. It’s been a while since their EP (Closet Polar Bear which was co-produced by Reel Big Fish lead singer and ska icon Aaron Barrett) was released. So it was time for HPT to formally introduce the world to their new lead singer Lindsey Smith. They also said goodbye to long time band mate Country Dave. HPT features a smaller horn section than most ska bands (Geoffery Munger and John Martinez), but they pack a punch. They would best be described as a pop-ska band, and Lindsey amazed with a dynamic range of vocals. They produced a more mature sound than their previous work, and the crowd recognized it. In her grass skirt, Smith provided a dance performance that matched her vocals, which drew cheers and applause from the crowd. Guitarists Tyler Moore, Country Dave and Anthony Rondina were in top form. HPT gave a solid performance; it was a good introduction to their new-look and sound, while saying goodbye to an old friend.
The thing about ska in the new millennium, you haven’t truly experienced this evolution until you see the Suburban Legends. In their reprise role at the Ska Luau, these cats feature the dynamic vocals of Vince Walker, the electrifying guitar riffs of Brian Klemm and Brad Polidori (Bass), while drummer Derek Lee Rock kept a perfect beat. They also displayed an unbelievably well choreographed, energetic and entertaining dance performance from the horn section (Brian Robertson, Chris Lucca, Aaron Bertram and Walker). Watching them alone is like a week at the gym, their performance is truly amazing and funny. Their energy is best described as a late 80’s performance of The Untouchables. SL opened with crowd favorite Come Back Home and followed with other favs like, I Want More, Don Juan, Bed Intruder and debuted their new release, Dude Alert. SL closed out their set with a high energy and inspiring performance of High Fives and Bright Spring Morning.
Bedlam was about to take full effect as OC’s Premier Ska Luminary and Promoter Tazy Phillips took the stage to introduce Starpool. Immediately the crowd chanted over and over… Chocolate Penis! That was the signal that full throttle skankin’ was about to begin. Starpool is a very interesting band with a storied past. Lead singer Al Meade was in No-Doubt while the rest of the band was in Save Ferris. SP features one of the best and dynamic horn sections in all of music (Olivera Zavala, Eric Zamora and TBone Willy). They are tight and provide a sound comparable to Danny Elfman’s pride and joy, Oingo Boingo. The band features the iconic sound of Save Ferris with a twist, Brian Mashburn (Lead Guitar), Bill Uechi (Bass) and Evan Kilbourne (Drums) are the heart and soul of that sound. As for Meade, he is a performance professional. He is best compared to Maurice White / Philip Bailey of Earth Wind and Fire. He brings that kind of professional entertainment value to his performance. Although EWF is of a different genre and era, this comparison is one of the highest compliments that can be made to a performer.
That being said, SP opened with You Know You Want It. Meade’s performance prowess was felt immediately as various skank pits formed throughout the HOB. They played tunes off their 2011 release of Living In Transition to the screams of their fans. During their performance Meade thanked their fans for their support the past year, and announced their scheduling of a tour in Korea and Japan. Also on the horizon, an upcoming California tour with the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. As the cheers and applause reached decibel level, SP went back into their iconic sound with the mod inspired cover of Pump It Up (Elvis Costello), Despise and It’s Alright. They also featured TBone Willy, the Trombone player extraordinaire energized the crowd even more when he appeared with his patented wig and bikini outfit so he could crowd surf to their 1965 Sam Sham and the Pharaohs parody of Wolly Bully; which has been transformed into the TBone Willy song. The song has a humorous chorus of TBone Willy, TBone Willy… TBone Willy! To watch TBone’s antics along with Eric Zamora (Sax), who also stage dove into the crowd, was worth the price of the ticket alone.
SP also brought out former Freakdaddy front man Jim Perkins to sing Hawaii Theater, and the crowd ate it up. They also played crowd favorite La Luna lead by Zavala (Trumpet). The show ended with their cover of the Isley Brothers classic, SHOUT! Mead and Zavala did their James Brown skit and the crowd loved it. The show hit epic proportions when the backstage crowd filled with the bands friends joined SP on stage for the closing. Their interaction with the crowd and the onstage presence is similar to what you see with Celtic-punk gods the Dropkick Murphys, it’s an experience I highly recommend. All in all, it was a great night of music and memorable performances at the House of Blues.
As a footnote, I have been covering these bands for the greater part of the past year. They are at the center of an eruption that is about to take place in the music industry. It’s happened three times previously in the ska genre. With the ska-based feature film RUDE-BOY in the works, the upcoming Aquabats TV show and NO Doubt’s soon to be released and long-awaited album around the corner; show’s like the Ska Luau may be the catalyst that paves the way for the Fourth Wave of ska. All indications look positive, and as far as we know, there should be a Ska Luau III in 2012.