There are some things in life I just won’t apologize for. I won’t budge an inch about finding Jewel’s snaggle tooth oddly attractive, nor will I balk at downright loving ska. And not the first wave with the likes of Desmond Dekker or even the second wave revival featuring the unscrupulous behavior of Madness or The Specials. You see, the first and second waves are easy to enjoy.
I’m talking about the third wave when it seemed to crest like something Kelly Slater would ride in the glorious summer of 1997. It was then that everything synchronized for bands with loyal followings like Rancid (still basking in the Operation Ivy love), The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and No Doubt and Sublime and Reel Big Fish and they were all over the radio 24-7.
Dorks like me argued about the relative merits of East Coast, punk-infused ska from Jersey versus the bouncy, sunshiney, horn-driven bands from the West Coast, predominantly Anaheim. Was there anything better than diving into the obscure bands from either coast, bands that you haven’t heard of since. Count’em off: Less Than Jake, Hepcat, The Toasters, Skank’n’Pickle, Mustard Plug, The Aquabats, and The Pietasters.
Ten years later, most of those bands are no longer around, crashing into the surf like a bad wipeout. Some, but very few, are still chugging along. But there’s something about listen to skiffle and horns and the uniting of rocksteady, reggae, soul, rock and punk into some glorious bastion of good times and political consciousness.
In fact, if you could see me, I’m wearing plaid pants right now. (On a side note, Dicky Barrett get your act together and get the band back together would you?) The Pietasters are one band that has not only kept chugging along, but they’ve managed to not be defined by the dreaded “ska” label and only come out better on the other side.
After a five year hiatus, they’re back with a new album All Day, produced by Todd Harris (he’s worked with James Brown). The D.C. lads, consisting of Stephen Jackson on lead vocals, Jorge Pezzimenti on bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals, Toby Hansen on guitar, Alan Makranczy on saxophone and melodica, Jeremy Roberts on trombone, Carlos Linares on trumpet, Jon Darby on keyboards and Rob Steward on drums, have crafted a record I could listen to for the majority of the day. Not all day, sorry, but it’s a diverse affair that makes the songs difficult to tire on, because the album isn’t really a ska album, per say.
Now we could go into The Pietasters past decade, from getting dropped by labels (ending up on Fueled By Ramen for their 2002 release), to the death of their original bass player in 2001, to James Brown tapping them for a stint as his backing band, but really that’s all just histrionics (see how clever we are by actually giving you a taste of their past decade?). What you really wanna hear about is their new music any good? In a word – hell yes!
From the opening track “Change My Ways” which sounds like something from Berry Gordy era Motown, with the song’s sound steeped in shoutout harmonies, crescendo horns and that gentle rolling guitar. Then you get something with a little bit of skank to it. Nothing aggressive but a delicate skank on “Don’t Wanna Know.”
All Day manages to reintroduce audiences to all the wonderful influences that shaped the third wave of ska, but it never seems derivative. This is an album that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, but rather than come off staid, this new collection of tunes from the ‘Tasters seems as fresh and easy on the ears as one would expect from the D.C. outfit.
The middle of the album begins to lose steam with several songs sounding similar, but by the time “Fozzy (Part 1)” kicks in they’ve managed to deliver something else entirely. It’s got this funky guitar line straight from the Stax-era, punctuated by hard-hitting horns. “So Long” pays tribute to punk rock.
The true misfire on the record, and it’s hardly a misfire is their cover of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart.” They’ve slowed it down into a reggae version and it’s not bad, you just expect more from The Pietasters. You sort of wish they had no included the song on the album. No doubt it’s a song that probably brings the house down in concert, it’s just it seems out of place on the record. It’s never a good thing when you think “I know this song. What song is this? Oh yeah it’s a Tom Petty song. Damn I wish I were listening to Petty’s version.”
Regardless, All Day is exquisite work from the band. Music lovers should be thankful that they’ve survived the ska-purge of 1998, when radio and record companies managed to erase the wonderment of 1997 from our memories. That shouldn’t have happened. It’s great to have The Pietasters back with one of those easy-going beach or party records, one that will last much, much longer than the collective love for ska we all shared a decade ago.
Tour dates after the jump.
Aug 17 Valentines Albany NY
Aug 18 The Chance Loft Poughkeepsie NY
Aug 22 Peppermint Beach Club Virginia Beach VA
Aug 24 Cat?s Cradle Carborro NC
Aug 25 Ska Weekend-Old City Knoxville TN
Sep 5 TBA Albuquerque NM
Sep 6 The Clubhouse Tempe AZ
Sep 8 Clark County Amphitheatre Las Vegas NV