Remember ska? Ska used to be big. Ska was still big in Utah in 1998—which was a good thing, because that was the year I really got into it, just after moving to Salt Lake City. Back then there was a plethora of local ska (or ska-inspired) bands: Stretsch Armstronng (which became Moxy Tonic Medicine Show), My Man Friday, The Soulutions.
All these bands opened for the various national acts that came to Salt Lake City and Provo. Now many of them have disbanded, save for the occasional reunion show, just as the big names for which they opened have faded. But the ska revival act that towered above all the others, The Slackers, is still making music and playing shows. The band will bring Salt Lake City's ska scene back to life for at least one night at The Depot on Thursday, May 11.
In 1998 I met a guy—let’s call him "Jeff." Jeff was into ska. Jeff owned a Vespa and wore sideburns. Some might have called him a ‘Rudeboy.’ And although he had a girlfriend, Jeff occasionally went out with me. One night, Jeff whisked me to Provo and through the back door of a certain all-ages venue that no longer exists. One of his favorite bands was playing that night. That band was The Slackers. We caught the last few songs of the final set, then ran over to the Only Bar in Provo and happily watched the band play those songs again, along with a hardy helping of the rest of its repertoire.
I’d never before heard such a visceral mix of blues and the two-tone rhythm of ska. I was instantly in love and bought at least one of the band’s CDs that night. When I signed the mailing list I included my phone number and nearly fainted a couple nights later when trumpeter Jeremy Mushlin actually called me. (Note: Mushlin does not play on the band's new CD, Peculiar.) Thanks to Jeff, I became a devoted Slackers fan and never missed a show. In fact, I once went all the way to San Francisco just to see them play. (That was the night the crowd danced so hard that a hollow sarcophagus above the stage fell to the floor. Luckily, no one was hurt.)
Years have passed and my musical taste has grown and diversified. Ska shows in Utah are rare and I rarely go to them. Jeff and I have gone separate ways. The remaining members of The Slackers, however, have remained true to their sound. Hearing Peculiar is like stepping back to the happy late-90s. The band sounds as good today as it did nine years ago, when it recorded the landmark Redlight album.
Keyboardist/singer Vic Ruggiero has said that the band likes to make "concept albums." As such, Peculiar, the band's sixth studio album, demonstrates an old-time circus side-show theme.
The artwork reflects this theme, incorporating song titles into eye-catching slogans: “WATCH as 86 Toy Soldiers battle a troop of FERAL LAWYERS armed with Harpoons” must refer to the song "86 The Mayo." “TEST Yourself on the KEEP IT SIMPLE Lie Detector Machine designed for Politicians” would be "Keep it Simple." And, speaking of politicians don't forget to “SEE for the 1st time in captivity, the INTERNATIONAL WAR CRIMINAL so evil he lives on a diet of GASOLINE.”
The band is getting older. Many of its members are fathers now and, as such, they worry more about the state of the world than they used to. The album reflects that concern while still maintaining a happy danceable sound. Speaking of their classic ska and reggae influences, Ruggiero stated in a recent interview, “We love those sounds…It’s a great beat to write over. You can do everything you do in rock and, on top of it, people can dance.”
And people will be dancing on May 11 at The Depot in Salt Lake City. Tickets are just $12, doors open at 7:30. As a special bonus, Utah’s best ska-influenced local band, 2 1/2 White Guys, will open the show.