By Robert O'Brien
Arizona Daily Wildcat February 16, 1996
Dave's Big Deluxe
With a fine ska show slated for Friday night at the Student Union, 8 p.m., here is my attempt to bring you all up to full skanking speed. The three bands performing have distinct qualities within the surprisingly diverse world of ska: Although there would obviously be a diverse set of influences in any genre pioneered by the mighty Robert Nesta Marley (1964), turned into English pop (2 Tone 1979) and blended with the movements now confusingly known as "punk" (Voodoo Glow Skulls, Rancid, Operation Ivy et al.), the distinctions may be difficult to surmise.
Among the bands performing Friday, the Skeletones might be the easiest to categorize. This California-based outfit has a surprisingly pop-friendly sound, yet widespread commercial success has strangely evaded them. Not even the singer's appearance in the Buffalo Exchange print ads could change this. While on the subject of fashion victimization, a little-known fact: Alternative radio darlings No Doubt were once a ska ensemble of some repute. No kidding. Hmmm.
Local favorites Dave's Big Deluxe were in their element, without a doubt (sorry) in the Bacchanalian times of the DPC. If you missed the melange of scoots, suits, and boots of days of yore, it's still not too late. Certainly a very consistent band in concert; this, however, is unfortunately in contrast with the sound reproduced on their first CD release, Sounds From the Credenza, (Slimstyle). Their ever-changing lineup has resulted in a very "tight" sound. In concert this is evident, with their punk influence clearly showing. On one's own Hi-fi, credenza style or not, it comes off a bit flat. The rich flavor of "Artebella" and the self-deprecating, vintage-flavored epic of "Fat" just sound so much better live that you have no other recourse than to get out there and take it all in. In which case, from the frenzied dance (think of a hybrid Twist with amateur speed skating, according to one scenester), touched off by the opening notes of the sparkling horns to the monosyllabic utterance of their traditional closer, you shall not be disappointed.
The experience nearly approaches, in fact, that of seminal ska group Let's Go Bowling. They are in no way to be confused with the rising fad of Kosmic Bowling. Certainly, they have infinitely more class. When pressed to recommend a single album which truly represents their best work, I'd lean toward 1991's Music to Bowl By (Moon). This album, with its heavy sample of instrumentals, is one of the best attempts at capturing on disc the smooth vibe of a truly great show. A quick look at this classic release:
"Rude 69" introduces the classic instrumental theme, as well as providing great license plate fodder for that 1969 model scooter... "Hare Tonic" continues a theme prevalent in Madness' take on "Swan Lake" eleven years earlier: The frenetic remake of a classical standard is one of numerous esoteric hooks prevalent within the genre. "Pinstripe Suit" is a fixture on jazz stations in more enlightened locales. As for the oddity of "Esta Noche," well, if Don Quixote reappeared and traded in Rochinante for a faded Vespa Rallye 200, this would be his favorite song. The final cut, "L.G.B.," evokes memories of the Specials' famed "Sock it to 'Em J.B." as an aesthetic marker.
Aesthetically speaking, I might speculate that H&R Block stepped up to underwrite this event because the idea of hip musicians in suits went along with their image. On the contrary, ska is not just for accountants any more, if it ever was (I have my doubts). In the here and now of 1996, it would be easy to accept it as the tenuous bridge between the Cocktail Nation and the punk (whatever that consists of this week) camps, but that smacks of pigeonholing a fantastically dynamic genre of music. Incidentally, the image presented in last summer's film "Clueless" is rather economical with the truth. Remember the scene with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones? Most shows are far better than that... Here's hoping for a vast turnout.