There is something very special about the New Jersey ska circuit. It's a beautiful, energetic, and revolutionary brotherhood of kids (and some adults - meaning, my group of friends and myself, all around 20 years of age, are some of the oldest kids who still buy tickets at the door and show up) that get together periodically and experience some of the best 3rd wave punk, ska, and reggae music that graces New Jersey (mainly Sayreville or Asbury Park). My first ska show was in the summer of 2006. It almost didn't happen; I was just about to back out. However, a great friend of mine convinced me to go and that I had to experience the thrill, and the group of 4 of us experienced Big D & The Kids Table and Catch-22, two headliners of modern ska. Now, these two acts aren't necessarily an "indie" sounding band, you know, like post-punk revival or electroclash (don't you hate labels?); however, there's nothing less mainstream than punk rock with horns.
Anyway, after countless ska shows from small and dirty venues to outdoor, legendary hotspots (such as Bruce Springsteen's start-up joint: The Stone Pony of Asbury Park - right on the beach, sweet as hell), I recently attended a Streetlight Manifesto show in Sayreville, NJ - at the Starland Ballroom.
The opening acts: The AKA's, The Swellers, & The Fear Nuttin' Band. The AKA's and Swellers weren't so groundbreaking: they fell among the countless no-name groups that demanded the crowd "do-something", like clap their hands, or shout something, or something shitty like that. I don't pay 15 bucks to spit stupid gibberish; I just want to sing along and skank it up. Their styles weren't awful, but hey, they're just openers, trying to get their name out there. You have to respect their drive to try.
The Feat Nuttin' Band was actually a delightful change of pace. They were big time reggae. They joked on stage about how it was difficult for the crowd to understand them - they were straight off the banana boat from Jamaica, at least the two vocalists were... But they were fun as hell. They did goosesteps on the stage, which reminded me of track drills back in the day. They were great, made the white kids dance, and like the other bands, hyped up Streetlight to a respectful, but not ass-kissing degree.
Streetlight came on around 10 o'clock - I think. Like last year, YOU COULD NOT FUCKING MOVE. So many little kids. God. There was swaying before the band even came out. Kids fell into pits - some girls shrieked. I just punched around and made room. You have to be a little tough to stand on your own two feet in the jam packed crowd without falling into the wave and breaking in the swell.
Their set list was solid, but not the best. New tunes were played well and old classics were played with a slower twist. Not enough songs off their critically-acclaimed 2003 "Everything Goes Numb", which was a downer for me. But the show was still a hit. We made own pits when the main pits weren't satisfying out skanking desires. We booed the pre-teen girls who thought they were tough and then yelled at them after the show when their parents came to pick them up. We stole kids' hats, which is always a fun game. We crowd surfed and realized the lack of strength in the crowd. Furthermore, we made kids feel awkward. My group of buds and I usually do an easy job of that; one in particular is a fan of eating other kids' hair and sticking his fingers in their mouths. What a way to experience your first show - getting felt up by a stranger while their friends laugh it up. I, personally, would be terrified. Overall, Streetlight was pleasing. New Jersey's native sons made up for a lackluster Bamboozle performance and rocked the central Jersey venue.
If there's something to be said about a group of friends who come together from throughout the tri-state, or any lengthy distance, for just one or two bands that make them smile, forget about their shit, and just dance and laugh, it's that ska music does that trick. They personally remind me of drunken stupors, mixed with dance accidents and inside jokes. They remind me of sweat and smiles, and White Castle and memories. Ah, ska. A dance move, a musical genre, a revolution: a sick, fucking time.
Here's Streetlight Manifesto performing a great version of their single "Down, Down, Down to Mephisto's Cafe" off their latest (and third) record "Somewhere In The Between", at the show, courtesy of someone on YouTube. Enjoy: