The year is 1998.
I had this mid/late-90’s phase where I listened to some really, really, uh, not great music. Graduating from the widely disseminated angst of early 90’s alternative rock to the “I really don’t know why they’re so mad,” slightly more manufactured White Guy “anger” of the mid to late 90’s, I enjoyed my time being a semi-Goth, confusingly approachable alt-kid, but knew, deep down, I didn’t really have anything to be so upset about. It was a weird time for everyone, honestly.
I can’t remember why, or how, but The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were all over the place. Reel Big Fish was ironically making it big with a song called “Sell Out,” and the Third Wave of Ska was, inexplicably, starting to find itself in the spotlight. There was a the whole Ska Punk thing happening, too, so really, Ska was kind of everywhere all of a sudden. I lost count of how many times, and in how many states, I saw The Suicide Machines live. Or how many times I played Mephiskapheles’ God Bless Satan, to my delight and to my mother’s horror. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that my first Ska show (and one of the first 5 or so live shows I attended) was actually a Mighty Mighty Bosstones headliner, with Swingin’ Udders opening. And then I went to see Reel Big Fish (they were on tour with Smashmouth because, you know, the 90’s). And, you know what, I loved it. I was addicted to the horns and the upbeat sound, the up strokes on the guitars and the suits and all of it. And like all good music junkies, I went down the Ska Rabbit Hole.
That’s where The Slackers enter the story.
When I finally started reading about the Third Wave, I had an incredible appetite to whet. The Slackers were only a few albums into their still prolific career, and I was discovering Hellcat Records, Asian Man Records, and Moon Ska Records bands almost daily. I took a deep, deep dive into traditional Ska, so bands like The Pietasters and Hepcat and The Skalars were just totally skanking their way into my heart. The Slackers, oh, The Slackers were right there with the rest of ‘em.
Though their lineup has changed over the years, band leader Vic Ruggiero has remained a cornerstone, crooning sometimes politically charged lyrics alongside love songs and booty shakers. To this day, I get a little bit starstruck watching and listening to him perform. The band itself is comprised of some of the genre’s most talented players, with David Hillyard on saxophone and Glen Pine on trombone, both having played in the band for a vast majority of its existence. You may also know David Hillyard from brief stint with Hepcat, or from his other project, Dave Hillyard & The Rocksteady Seven.
Their second LP, Redlight, turns 20 this year. It wasn’t long after I started listening to them that The Question was released. It was a pivotal release–not just for the band–but for my love and appreciation of their particular flavor of Ska. Dense and rhythmic, catchy and cathartic. Above all else, completely earnest and unironic. Things haven’t really been the same for me since. There was a considerable portion of my early high school career where plaid suits and two-tone everything were common. My descent into the depths of Ska were unprecedented. I was a teenager obsessed. The Slackers were a big part of that, and seeing them live in Dayton in the late 90’s remains a high point in my show going career, two decades and hundreds of shows later.
That The Slackers should arrive nearly 20 years after I first saw them perform live, and around the anniversary of their now classic album, Redlight, seems a bit of cosmic symmetry. Their mixture of traditional Ska, reggae, rocksteady, dub, jazz, soul, R&B, and whatever else they feel like playing is a welcome detour from the typically rock, metal, and folk heavy offerings we’ve seen over the past few years. Inside The Southgate House Revival, I’ve no doubt they’re going to take us to church, and do all of our souls some good.
Come out and dance with me (and I hope everyone else, otherwise it might be a bit weird) on April 10th. If you’ve not experienced The Slackers live–or hell, if you’ve not experienced them at all–it’s time. Grab your dancin’ shoes.