I spent much of the summer of 2010 following the Warped Tour in my car. I kept a blog about it, certain entries of which I’m going to migrate over here. This entry is from July 3rd, a review of HaSkaLA, who played the California dates of the tour.
Anybody in here listen to ska?
Hey, me too. That makes two of us.
I bet that 93% of the ska bands you listen to formed prior to the new millenium, right? I bet the lead singer’s got grey hairs and shit. Ska ain’t dead, but it sure doesn’t seem to be getting any younger.
Enter HaSkaLA, a brand-spankin’-new haven’t-even-cracked-the-owner’s-manual-yet ska band from LA, who played the three California Warped dates last week (and will play one more, August 10th, in San Diego) on the Ska Parade portion of the Kevin Says Stage.
Though HaSkaLA is, as previously mentioned, so sparkly new it hurts (their second show ever was the show on June 25th in Carson City), but various members of the band have been kicking around the LA ska scene for years. They are up front about their newness as a band, which is refreshing (if you’re tired of watching bands scramble for “scene cred”, not that this has ever been a concern for ska bands, who are just hopelessly uncool to begin with) and discouraging (if you’ve ever known a band who tried and failed to get on Warped). HaSkaLA has caught on to the ludicrous irony of both the universe as a whole and the music industry specifically, and so far at least, they’re laughing at it, trying to skank fast enough so that they don’t get run over.
Frontman Steve takes the stage with his eyes ringed with kohl, clad in a burka, which is quickly shed to reveal an outfit involving fancy pants of some sort. Watching him perform, I got the feeling that I had wandered into a vaguely sinister dystopia in which ska is the only possibility for redemption. I’m not sure if Steve is the Ring Master in this alternate universe or the victim of it. Perhaps both.
The best ska bands make a tacit agreement with their audience, and this pact is part of the reason why ska shows feel so different from punk shows. We will put on a show for you, they say, if you meet us halfway. Hence the emphasis both on showmanship (including dress code) and on musicianship. HaSkaLA’s got this down: they write songs that are eminently danceable, and they avoid the ska verse/punk chorus formula that ska has been so burdened with over the past few years. In a nutshell, HaSkaLA is fun.
This is not to say HaSkaLA’s got it all down; they are a brand new band, and correspondingly rough around the edges at times. And I tend to like bands who incorporate longer phrasing into their horn lines. But that’s just nitpicking, really; aspects of the band that will evolve the longer they stay together and get broken in. If you’re in San Diego on August 10th and you like ska, you could do worse than spring for a $35 Warped ticket and camp out in front of the Kevin Says stage, where HaSkaLA (along with plenty of other ska bands) will be taking over and skanking it up all afternoon.