I have been going to ska shows on a regular basis ever since I was about 13 years old. It started with local bands from my high school playing small fundraising shows around town. Although in retrospect the music was mediocre and most of the kids at the shows were early incarnations of today’s hipsters, I was hooked. There was nothing more fun than joining the five-to-ten person circle pit and skanking to The Ransom playing “Three Day Weekend,” their equivalent to Catch 22’s “Keasbey Nights.”
My first “real” ska show was a Big D and the Kids Table show at the Avalon on Lansdowne street in Boston. I remember my awkward entrance: a short , wide-eyed 14-year-old who had just barely begun to lose her baby fat, never more than a foot away from her group of equally awkward friends, looking exactly like someone who had never been to a show before.
The unmistakable odor of hair dye slapped me across the face as I moved from the lobby area to the ballroom. The energy I witnessed had me completely electrified. I grew to love every single aspect of the show: the bruises and body aches I’d get to keep for days after, the fat black Xs on my hands that refused to fade.
I stopped trying so hard to cover the bruises and wash the permanent marker off my fists. Those Xs were evidence of my other life, the bruises my battle scars. They were catalysts in making new friends. Seeing other kids with a ska or punk t-shirt on and a limp in their step or an X on their hand led to immediate conversation, exchanging reviews of shows we’d been to, arguing over who had the most hardcore show injury and talking in detail about why this band’s latest album sucks or why that band rules.
Every show I’ve been to since has left me filthy damaged, temporarily deaf in at least one ear and happy to be alive. However, after spending seven years listening primarily to ska and punk music and going to such shows, I have developed the ability to become a critic as well as a fan. I’ve noticed different aspects of shows, which I didn’t consider at that first Big D show at the Avalon, that can either make or break a performance.
The way that the crowd reacts to a band is a clear reflection of how entertaining the group is. At Big D and the Kids Table’s show which took place at Pearl Street last Friday, four bands played, each eliciting a very different reaction from their audiences. Skasome Society played first and, although a lot of the people there were likely unfamiliar with their material, performed with fervor, causing a number of circle pits and raised fists.
The Stereo State, on the other hand, did more talking than rocking and seemed unjustifiably cocky. They only played five or six songs, at least two of them sounding like covers (was that a My Chemical Romance song I heard at a ska show? Really? Some things are just sacred). The crowd remained motionless until their final two songs; people moshed minimally, but there were few other movements.
During Big D’s set, Dave McWane kept referring to illScarlett as “the best band on Earth.” I wonder what made him think so. Most of the group’s songs, though tight and flowing, sounded extremely similar. The group even managed to make what they called a Lil’ Wayne cover (it was actually a song by Eminem and Dr. Dre) sound exactly like the rest of their set. In my previous statements about illScarlett, I have said that the singer’s voice grows on the listener and that the music is quite enjoyable after a few listens. After an entire set of listens, I must disagree with myself.
Big D was an entirely different story.
Even though Big D’s sound has gone in a different direction since I first saw them six years ago (and I can’t say I’m too happy about that as a fan), their energy has continued in the same direction: up. They’re the kind of band that sounds different live than they do on the album. Personally, I don’t care too much for their latest album when I hear it on my iPod. Before their performance, I was bummed to glimpse at their set list and see that it was comprised mostly of songs from their last two albums. But when they started playing songs off their latest record, “Fluent In Stroll” and making it sound much harder and faster than it does on the CD, I started to love it.
It seems that no matter what direction Big D takes their music in, their live performances will always be great. Their ska punk roots show through in every song, and it appears that most people come to see them for the punk feel of the music. The audience seemed to go nuts more for the harder songs the band played, and even more so for their older material.
When I left the show on Friday, my left ear was ringing and felt numb. My legs were aching. I felt a bruise coming in just above my left eye. The excited feeling I had was the same as if I’d just won the lottery. I survived another show, held my own against a rowdy, screaming crowd and it was all in the name of ska.
Ellie Rulon-Miller can be reached at [email protected]