By: Danny Maggs
It’s been roughly two decades since the heyday of 3rd wave ska punk . Twenty whole years have passed since bands like Reel Big Fish, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less than Jake, Goldfinger, and so many more were at the height of their popularity. Ska had been bumped to the fringes of the popular music scene, waiting patiently for a return to the mainstream airwaves, while fans of the genre have continued to insist that “ska is not dead.”
After twenty long years, ska is on its way back up, and the Interrupters are leading the charge.
To understand exactly why the California 4-piece’s show at the Danforth Music Hall on Friday was one of the most necessary performances of the year, you need to understand a little bit about what makes California ska-punk so unique.
Ska music refuses to take itself seriously. Lyrics in ska songs often reflect angst and hopelessness, but do so against a backdrop of a bumpin’ horn section, fast-walking bass lines, and two-tone rhythms that are so damn upbeat it’s impossible not to dance along. Modern ska music is a beautiful paradox – Acknowledging life is downright shitty at the best of times, yet refusing to do anything but make the most of it, while also (and this is the most important part), making sure we’re all in it together.
How necessary is this in 2019? We live in a decade where we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. We’re trying to navigate an economy that feels so much different than the one were promised. We’re reminded of racial tensions and gender gaps every single day. There’s so much uncertainty in this world, that it just feels so important to have music that can lift us up and move past it.
That, is The Interrupters message. They ripped opened their set with their signature brand of unity inspired tracks Friend Like Me, By My Side, and What’s Your Plan, the latter of which front-man Kevin Bivona made sure to remind the crowd is an “anti-hate anthem.” Within seconds of the band beginning, the mosh pit at the front of the stage sprung to life.
Now, If you’ve never been inside a ska-punk mosh pit, you might be confused by how a bunch of strangers violently body-checking each other is supposed to scream TOGETHERNESS, but this is one of the beautiful things about the genre. Ska is the musical embodiment of the teenage angst that sticks with us even into our later years. The ska-pit is the medium to get out all your frustration, all your pent up angsty energy, and just LET GO. Because you know everyone in that pit is in the same boat, and you’re all there to do the same thing- feel the music with one another.
For 90 sweaty minutes the band played their heart out. Lead singer, Aimee Allen, as the next generation’s Gwen Stephanie belting out messages of togetherness to a crowd that included the skank-rockers of the Reel Big Fish/Goldfinger Era, highschool teenagers getting their first taste of the genre, and even some older folks there to ride the new wave.
One notable highlight came about halfway through the setlist, when Kevin told the crowd that they were going to play a cover song from one of the bands that inspired them the most. The audience was salivating – it’s well known that The Interrupters have a close relationship with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong- but Kevin and co. kept the suspense, beginning (and abruptly stopping) songs by Metallica, Huey Lewis, NOFX, and even Green Day before finally rewarding the crowd with Rancid’s Timbomb. That wasn’t the surprise though. Halfway through, they switched from Timebomb into an anthem from Armstrong’s first band, Operation Ivy’s Sound System.
Finally, the band was ready to end their set, driving their mission statement home one last time. Kevin divided the crowd, creating a lane in the middle. Seasoned hardcore punk veterans might have recognized the beginning of a “wall of pain”, where the band urges the crowd to charge each other as hard as possible to create a storm of chaos, Bivona told the room that this was different. This, he said, was a Wall of Love. When he counted the crowd in, they charged not to hurt each other, but to rebuild the mosh pit with a charge of positive energy. Strangers embraced, fed off one another, and bounced along into The Interrupters latest single, EVERYTHING.
With his greatest moment of the night, Kevin and his bandmates stayed on stage. Explaining that if they were a stadium band, this is when they’d leave the stage, then proceeded to perfectly explain what their “grand encore” would look like, exploring the theatre of the mind and describing to his audience a dream complete with descending pianos pyrotechnics. While none of this actually happened on stage, he did such a convincing job describing it that it very well might have.
Mid-encore, in a touching thank you to Toronto, the band acknowledged, before launching into their mega-hit Kerosene, that alternative radio stations 102.1 The Edge, and Indie88 changed their lives forever by giving them airplay. The band affirmed that Ska has a home in this city.
At the end of it all, the notoriously troubled crowd that is a typical punk-rock concert walked onto Danforth Avenue with ear-to-ear smiles, their worldly frustrations tamed, for now. Everyone who left the venue must have shared the same thought- The Ska Scene is alive and well in 2019.
Good thing, too. We need it now more than ever.
Danny Mags is a performer, aspiring game-show host, and lover of ska music. You can catch him hosting BINGPOT! Trivia around the GTA, or at most concerts where checkered slacks are an acceptable part of the dress code. Follow him here.