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Show Review Crush: Slackfest with The Slackers, The Alrighters, Sean Wheeler & Zander Schloss at ME Down

September 28, 2009

Listen. I was excited about this show. It’d probably been six years since I’d seen some ska. I was ready for it, folks. I really was. And to see some punk greats like Sean Wheeler from Throw Rag playing with Zander Schloss from the Circle Jerks as well as some locals I’d never heard – seemed like the perfect show, right?

(Note: Yes. I missed The Forthrights featuring trombone legend Mr. T-Bone. I’m sorry. Grad school started back up and, while studying how to use a hyphen and when to spell out a numeral for my copyediting class, I lost track of time. No excuse, Forthrights. Really. I’m sure you were great, though. Really do. Balls to the wall, keep up the good work.)

Show Going Friend Joe and I entered Middle East Downstairs (hey! Awesome, ME Down! Your stairs don’t smell awful anymore!) while Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss had just started their set.
I’m about to complain. I really am. I don’t know what I was expecting from these guys or expecting them to be like, but what’s with older punk rockers suddenly turning to honky-tonk folk? I mean, really. I complained about this, too, when Steve Soto and the Twisted Hearts opened for X. I’m not saying I want a current version of bands past but… Honky tonk. Really. Their set was maybe saved by the sarcastic banter from Sean Wheeler between songs and maybe the DIY spirit of the CDs at their merch booth. I guess, though, if you’re into this kind of thing – watching what you expected to be some bad-ass punk rockers suddenly turned into wannabe Tom Waits’s… Then, hey. You might’ve liked this.

In between sets was DJ Generoso of Bovine Ska radio spinning some vinyl. DJ Generoso owns my heart for not using Serato. I like you, sir. I do.

And when The Alrighters starting set up their stuff on stage, I was excited – a stand-up bass, eh? No guitar? Some sax with those drums? This could be cool, this could be cool.
But it wasn’t. Not for me. Hey, the crowd really seemed to dig them and bounce around and get into it, but all I could think of this swing-ska fusion was that the music they were playing was simply too fast for their singer – he was literally gasping for breath by the third song of a forty minute set in which each song seemed about a minute to a minute and a half long. And the singer seemed to make up for his lack of breath by growling into the mic as the intro and outro of just about every song – badly. Not good. And his witty between-song-banter wasn’t really all that witty, with even the saxophone player of his own band saying, “Too much talking.” And every song seemed to sound a lot like The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak,” (you know it – “Yakety yak! Don’t talk back.” – that song). So, despite that stand-up bass player spinning his bass up and around and to the side and those pretty cool sax solos… God, I really, really didn’t like this. This was not all right (har har, get it?) and I really didn’t like it. The songs were all ruined by the singer’s complete lack of tempo and pitch.

So Show Going Friend Joe humored me by joining me outside for a cigarette and commented that, “This is more like Suckfest than Slackfest.” And I was becoming disappointed. I wanted some ska, god dammit, some good ska, some good live ska, please, thank you, help me, anyone.

The Slackers to the rescue, loves. From the very first song, every rude kid in the crowd was skanking in time and singing along, all those boys and girls in suits and pencil skirts. The bass player played his electric bass balanced on a stool, seeming to mimic a stand-up bass. The trombone player / back-up singer looked a little like a gameshow host offering me a chance at Plinko as he emoted to the crowd with his vocals, but it actually all worked and only added to their stage presence. I mean, these boys played for a good hour, and they never let up, never seemed tired, and there were some kids in that crowd that skanked the whole time. I loved this sax, loved that guitarist jumping around in the background, and the lead singer looked like that guy Brooklyn from Newsies but with facial hair.

What I’m saying is: The Slackers saved Slackfest. Because The Slackers are, and have always been, awesome.

  1. Did you just say that Tom Waits is Honky Tonk? Really?

  2. Well – NYTimes backs me up with the honky-tonk: "Miles away from the lounge-music cliches he used in the 70's to evoke the wrong side of the tracks, his evolved style is an abrasive, lurching honky-tonk that at its most adventurous suggests a fusion of Captain Beefheart's Dadaist extensions of the delta blues with the Kurt Weill of 'Threepenny Opera.'" (Bolding was mine.)

  3. As someone who is fairly familiar with the Alrighter's set list, I would have to say that with the possible exception of their cover of Yakkety Sax, exactly 0% of their songs sound like "Yakkety Yak." Maybe you couldn't hear them clearly over the sound of everyone else enjoying them?

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