It's impossible for me to go to a show that features the bands that were headlining Ska is Dead IV without comparing it to my first concert experiences. With new bands, I can appreciate them on their own merits, without holding them up to some ludicrous standard that was set when I was first discovering music, and imbuing it with a ridiculous sense of grandeur. When I saw Skapone at this year's Glenwood Arts Festival, I wasn't comparing them to every other time I'd seen them, because I'd never seen them before, Which was fine. They were good, by the way. Much better than the stand that was trying to sell glasses with "Penis" and "Scrotum" written on them in puffy paint for $20. Obscene on no less than two levels. But, this isn't that, and so I'm going to compare Ska is Dead IV to concerts of my youth. Get over it.
First, the venue. I've been to the Metro a number of times. There's not really much I can complain about as far as the venue itself. It does well for what it is, a mid-level club. There's at least one improvement over the clubs of my youth. The guy who sets up the equipment change music makes at least minimal effort to match the music to the show. I distinctly remember going to concerts at Club Laga where the twenty minutes between the end of The Hippos set and The Berlin Project and being assaulted with Top 40, specifically "...Baby One More Time", which not only breaks the spell by injecting a completely different kind of music into the mix, but by risking inciting a group of irrational teenagers to violence. So that's no good. Whoever's picking out music at the Metro, though, at least sort of seems to know what he's doing. If Deal's Gone Bad finishes and we're waiting for the Toasters to take the stage, it's nice to hear some Let's Go Bowling or Specials. So yes. Good job, Metro Intermission Music Guy.
The fact that Metro's got a balcony actually alleviated the fears I had about the concert being groups of high schoolers with me being creepy in the background. The crowd segregates by age, with the older attendees hanging out upstairs, where the bar is, and the kids staying downstairs, where they can run into each other and do whatever it is that I did before I realized how much I enjoy not moving all that much. I always hated the over 21s at concerts when I was young. I thought they weren't getting the full concert experience by hanging out in a cage removed from the mosh pit. Turns out, not getting shoved can be ok.
Now, the actual bands. I have to confess, I underestimated the amount to which the CTA would continue to be the bane of my existence. So an attempt to show up at least somewhat on time means I missed both Green Room Rockers and Voodoo Glow Skulls, which I was sort of devastated about. So, unfortunately, I can't review either of their performances. On to the bands that I saw. I'd never seen Deal's Gone Bad before, which is absurd as they're a Chicago band who plays here often enough, and I've been living here for four years. Since I'd never seen them, I guess I never really jumped at the opportunity to see them. I won't make that mistake again. They're what I look for in new ska bands. Go. See. Deal's Gone Bad.
The Toasters continue to have a lot fewer members than they had in their heyday, if we can call it that. The last time I saw them, there was at least Lord Sledge on trumpet and Buford O'Sullivan joining in on trombone, but last night's horn section consisted solely of a tenor sax and trombone. Which is fine, and they did fine with what they had, but I'm always hoping to see a return to their former size. A drummer I've never seen before tried to lead the crowd, which worked well enough, as most of the people there were well versed enough in Toasters albums that singing along was never a problem. The bassist, while playing well, was moving as though he wanted to be in a band other than the one that helped pioneer Third Wave, and was a little distracting. Lots of swaying. Anyway, "Bucket" Hingley was on as always. I'm not sure how old Bucket is at this point (it should be noted that Skaboom!, the band's first album, was issued in 1983, making the Toasters at least as old as I am), but he seems to still have his spark. He worked the crowd, imploring some young whippersnappers to stop trying to hurt fellow concert goers, and I was impressed by the song selection. There's a tendency, I think, to try to find the most popular album and just play that. A Rancid concert two years ago I went to was almost entirely "...And Out Come The Wolves". Which isn't a bad thing necessarily. But getting to hear everything from "Weekend in LA" to "Shocker" to "Thrill Me Up" to a few songs from Enemy of the System made me appreciate not only how deep the Toasters repretoire is, but that they're willing to play the old stuff. The kids were into it, so that worked.
It was really disconcerting to have Mustard Plug headlining a show at which the Toasters were playing. I always sort of held the Toasters in very high regard (partly because Bucket ran Moon Ska Records), and it's very weird to see them not headlining whatever show they're at. Nothing against Mustard Plug, obviously, as I've seen them absurdly often and still listen to Evildoers Beware! and Pray for Mojo. But, anyway, on to Mustard Plug. I was skeptical at how much the crowd seemed to be cheering at the bizarre lights and sustained chords intro, but it turns out that Mustard Plug is always going to be Mustard Plug. Energetic without being cartoonish (which is what I didn't like about a lot of the bands, like Reel Big Fish, that came up in the ska-punk fad) and just completely controlling the crowd. The set included most of the standards ("You", "Skank By Numbers", "Lolita") as well as two covers. One I've heard hundreds of times, to the point where I don't even recall what The Verve Pipe's version of "The Freshmen" even sounds like. They also covered "Waiting Room" by Fugazi, which I was skeptical of, but which they managed to pull off enough that I think Ian MacKaye may allow it. My only nitpick with the entire set was that for the first time in all the times I've seen Mustard Plug, the performance of "Mr. Smiley" wasn't accompanied by Dave Kirchgessner attacking the front row with a plastic axe. Additionally, I've been to a lot of shows in my time, and I've heard a lot of bands play their most popular song last, but nothing gets a crowd going like the Beer Song. My word.
On the way out, I was handed a CD from what appears to be a local band called "On Your Marx", who appears to have reformed from a mid-nineties band called "Jambalaya" that I've never heard of. With a name like On Your Marx, and a CD cover of a gold-stars-on-red-background version of the Chicago flag, I was expecting something a bit more political. It's fun enough, and I'm always supportive of a ska band with female vocals. Their song "Baby Piano" starts with a baby piano, which I guess makes sense. I'd like to hear more from On Your Marx, as the EP (which is available on their website was too short for me to make any real judgement. I'd give them a shot if I saw that they were playing somewhere.
So, there we go. Concert Review. Hooray.