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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ska at Summerfest

So we ditched Evanston on July 3 to spend a few days in the wilds of Wisconsin. The goal was to catch a ska concert on the 4th of July at the Milwaukee Summerfest. Summerfest is a wild scene, kids. It has been going on for 40 years and the party runs for almost 2 weeks. There is gobs of music, with 4 stages operating simultaneously for 12 hours each day. There is lots of food, too.

My 15 year-old daughter likes the whole ska-punk thing. This is OK with me - ska can be terrific music, requiring considerable skill to perform and full of energy and humor. The headlining ska bands on July 4th were Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish. Both of these groups started up during the so-called Third Wave of ska, which kicked off in the late `1980's and early 1990's. I have always been fond of Ska because the bands feature horn sections, often with a trombonist as the focal point. As an old slip-horn player, I get off on seeing a trombonist in the spotlight, and the cats can play!

Less Than Jake was a little bit lame - they seemed to be overly fond of dropping "f-bombs" at every opportunity and they broke up their show with a ill-conceived game show parody that was devoted to making fun of fans and touting the awesomeness of the band. Feh. When they quit screwing around and played, they rocked. The trombone dude, Buddy Schaub, was hyperkinetic and talented.

Reel Big Fish was a very talented and cohesive band. Their between-tune patter was less annoying and insulting than the Less Than Jake crew. Their music was considerably more "hooky" and they had more horns - two trumpets and a trombone vs. trombone and tenor sax for Less Than Jake. Reel Big Fish's songs have a great sense of humor - "She's Got a Girlfriend Now" is a hoot, so is "Don't Start a Band." Their biggest hit, I think, was "Sell Out," which actually got some radio play. I learned that the core members of this band attended the University of Hartford (in Hartford CT), which apparently has a terrific music department (who knew?).

The ska-punk scene is interesting. There were hundreds of people jammed into the Harley Davidson Stage at Summerfest; when Reel Big Fish played their tunes, the whole audience (except me) sang along. It was an intense communal concert experience; I haven't seen anything like it in a long time. Of course, I haven't been hitting too many rock concerts in the past 25 years....

My teenage daughter was one of the folks singing along on every song. She was thrilled to be at the concert (but perhaps less than thrilled to have her old man as her companion).

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