Ska is Dead (Syke! It’s Awesome!)

I had the good fortune to see the ska-punk band Mustard Plug play in Toledo, OH recently, at Frankie’s Inner City.  They’re a Grand Rapids, MI-based band, so it was odd for me – a Michigan resident – to see them out of state.  One of the people I went with has seen them six times in the past, once only 30 minutes away from our podunk little town, so it felt a little foolish to drive 3 hours out of state for a show.  Still, I’m a big ska fan, so it was worth it.  It was also interesting to see how the Toledo crowd at a ska show differed from a Detroit crowd, and how the local bands sounded.

The doors opened at 8, and the first opening act went on shortly after.  There were four openers at this bar-gig show, and I don’t want to waste your time by talking about each and every one of them.  However, I will give a short and sweet summary in list form:

  • The first band, Moose Indian, came on and opened by performing the song “99 Problems.”  They were a geeky indie band, decked out in cardigans and V-necks.  They had a guy on stage whose only job was to play xylophone.  With all of that going on, it was pretty freaking hilarious to see the singer rapping and representin’.
  • The next band up, Hour 24, were reminiscent of 80’s glam metal, with a female lead singer.  Her eyes were FREAKY while she was singing; she’d look out at the audience, and then try and pop them out of their sockets.  Their bassist was in a wheel chair, which was pretty cool, although hard to see.
  • After that was the last non-ska band, This Is Everything.  To be honest, I wasn’t even in the room for most of their set, though they sounded pretty decent.  It didn’t matter, cause the best part of their show happened before they even started their first song.  The rhythm guitarist walked up on stage, plugged in his guitar, and then leaned over and puked.  Just a little, enough that his band mates didn’t notice.  The first time, I wasn’t even sure it was an accident; maybe some sort of weird stage behavior?  He acted completely casual about it, even though by the fourth time it was all over his face.  By the fifth time, the singer and lead guitarist finally looked over and saw what was happening.  They pretty much just waited for him to finish and then started playing, still standing in it.  Needless to say, that was the funniest part of the night.
  • Finally, some ska started rocking the house!  A smaller band by the name of Ego and The Maniacs took the stage, and they were pretty damn sweet.  The bassist/singer was this HUGE dude, who was so tall his head mighta been scraping the ceiling at times.  For horns, they had a lady saxophone player wailing through every song, and she sounded amazing.  The bassist’s shirt came off halfway through the set, and much merriment was had.  I think they may have been touring with Mustard Plug, although I don’t actually have any proof.  I bumped into their bassist a few times after the set, and he seemed like a pretty cool guy.

Next up was the reason for the entire adventure, Mustard Plug.  They took the stage to a cacophony of whoops and cheers, and started blasting their first song.  I went and jumped in the smallish mosh pit immediately (you know…to get the full experience), but I had to get out of their pretty quick because I was feeling sick and woozy.   I was back in only a few gulps of Pepsi later, loving their energy.  They had some excellent on-stage banter, and talked with the crowd the entire night.  It was nice to see them take advantage of the venue’s cramped nature, and actually interact with the people in front.  Of course, it would’ve been rude not to – the audience kept sending up free drinks, and they kept taking them!  Later in their show the singer, Dave Kirchgessner, came down into the audience and started hacking at people with a foam butcher’s knife.  I’m sure you’re wondering, so no, I didn’t receive any fatal injuries.  After the song ended (I’m not sure which song it actually was) they announced that it was their ICP remix version, and discussed the fellow Michigan bands’ famously terrifying shows.  Apparently, two members had actually attended them before!  Thankfully, they lived to tell the tale.

Their set started around 11:30, and didn’t end until 1:30 at the earliest.  At about 12:30, Dave announced that tomorrow was guitarist Colin Clive’s birthday, then checked his watch and realized it already was tomorrow.  Everyone celebrated his birthday with good cheer, and tried sending up more shots than he could have possibly handled.  The crowd also bullied Colin into singing one of his own songs,and it sounded excellent!  He seemed to be having a great time, celebrating his birthday by doing what he loves.

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There were only about 30 fans moshing, but what we lacked in numbers was made up by our intensity.  Some guys managed to keep moving the entire night, and I was pretty impressed.  There wasn’t enough of a crowd that you’d be immediately caught if you fell, so everyone had to be quick on their feet.  Everything got more and more upbeat as the night went on, and they started pulling out their old hits.  “Throw A Bomb” and “The Freshmen” (a Verve Pipe cover) were both played, as well as a nice assortment of songs from their newest album, In Black And White.   Something nice for every fan, new and returning.

Of course, they had to finish off their set with the song “Beer!”  I don’t drink (of course), but I couldn’t avoid getting caught up in the crowd’s insanity.  The 25 or 30 remaining fans all started skanking with renewed energy, and the band played like their instruments were on fire.  During the chorus, Dave crouched at the edge of the stage and held the microphone out, so the audience could sing along.  That was the point at which I got soaked in nasty cheap beer, but it didn’t matter; the feeling of all these fans crowding his microphone was incredibly amazing.  Somehow, the song went on long enough for Dave to single out pretty much every fan in front of him, and make sure they got their 1.5 seconds of audience fame.

What an excellent way to end their show – throat torn up from shouting along, legs and feet aching from non-stop skanking, and a huge smile on my face from the awesome show I just watched.  It was a high-power, 4-wheel drive  performance, and I can tell ska isn’t dead; it’s just hiding from the public eye, so the dedicated fans can live on in peace and the music can stay awesome.  Skank away, kids!

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