The constant evolution of Ska music has been one of the most fascinating arcs in music history. Begun as a pre-cursor to Reggae, artists like Bob Marley and the Wailers developed the "island" sound. The second wave of Ska formed in the British Punk scene, as artists like Bad Manners, The Specials and The English Beat added their Punk-spawned urgency and created a new branch to the Ska tree. The '80s and '90s saw a more direct hybrid of Punk and Ska, as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and others created yet another brand, bringing the Punk up in the mix and matching brawny power chords and howling vocals with the sped-up skip-beats.
When Ska has gone through its "down periods," when it's not fully embraced by the mainstream — in fact, it's often ridiculed as a fleeting fad — it lives on in the underground. The revival that's rising now has been more appealing to me, a 2-Tone label die-hard. New, young bands like the Aggrolites and Hepcat have brought things full circle, going back to the natural, uncluttered vibe of those earliest Ska sides (while still mixing in the occasional modern elements).
In Cincinnati, the leading Ska band is The Pinstripes. One listen to their new album, The Decay, proves they've more than earned their stripes.
The Decay contains everything that made me fall in love with Ska 25 years ago: smooth, clean, soulful vocals; tight horn punctuation marks; classic organ; and a steady, air-tight beat that doesn't ever step on its own feet from being too hurried.
There is a fresh, youthful energy, but they don't overdo it — it's apparent that these guys have listened intently to the originators and others who kept most true to the original concept. The Decay is likely the best Ska album to ever come out of Greater Cincinnati.
The band will be celebrating the CD release in style. The 'Stripes will be a heavy presence at their annual "Ska Stock" festival Wednesday and Thursday at The Poison Room. The Pinstripes perform both nights of the all-ages fest, which starts music at 4 p.m. each day. Ska acts of all kinds (and from around the country) fill out the bill. The band then heads off on an extensive U.S. tour. Now, who said Ska was dead again? (myspace.com/thepinstripes)
Freek Unleashed ... on DVD
On Saturday at 2 p.m., local Funk master Freekbass will be at Everybody's Records in Pleasant Ridge performing and promoting the release of the new live DVD, A Sliver of Shiver. The main concert was filmed at UC, part of Bootsy Collins' "Fall Ball." Bootsy plays hypeman throughout (and remarkable avant guitarist Buckethead guests on a song) as Chris Sherman and crew unravel a string of party-starters, steeped in the P-Funk tradition. The footage is strong, and the sound is pristine.
But it's kind of hard to watch a live Freekbass show from your couch — it's more a DVD you'd put on at a party. Sherman and company are a quintessential "Jam band," and while the groove repetition is effective when you see and hear it in person (it creates a hypnotic, magnetic force), it can be a little grating watching it on a boob tube. Still, Funk fans (and those who admire adventurous bass work) should definitely grab a copy.
The DVD also includes some bonus footage, including a song where Freek sits in with P-Funk legend Bernie Worrell, but the bonus clips are a little more low budget, grainy and noisy. There's also a cool featurette that goes behind the scenes of the making of one of Sherman's ornamental, oddly-shaped basses and a video for "Reds Fan," featuring local celebrities like Andy Furman, Marty Brenneman and George Foster. (freekbass.com)
'80s Pop Rocks On
As if my 20th high school reunion coming up hasn't made me feel old enough, on Saturday the "80s Pop ... Rocks" benefit show (featuring local bands playing '80s favorites) returns to the Southgate House, reminding me of those days when I tried to look like John Taylor from Duran Duran but still ended up looking like a young Danny Bonaduce on a bender. Proceeds from the show again go to the local AIDS organization AVOC.
Who will play what? You'll have to show up to find out. Music starts at 8 p.m., and 34 bands have dusted off old copies of Howard Jones or Kajagoogoo tapes to find the "just right" song. Those performing include Lovely Crash, Cutlure Queer, Buckra, Meadoe, 7 Speed Vortex, Moth, Wojo, patientZero, Moped Mafia, the Elliott Ruther Trio, The Tigerlilies, The Fairmount Girls and scores of other (including the incomparable Michael McDonald 5). Always an amazing night out. Don't miss it! And if you get bored with the bands, be sure to show everyone you can do it better at the karaoke booth on the second floor.
CONTACT MIKE BREEN: mbreen(at)citybeat.com