with Bim Skala Bim and the Strangeways
State Theater, St. Petersburg • 11.8.97
It should be no surprise that the State Theater was packed to the gills for this show. The Toasters first took to the stages of New York City seventeen years ago, starting the tide that has become known as the third wave of ska. Bim Skala Bim followed very closely behind, creating a similar dynasty in Boston. Both bands have had years to build a following, and that following turned out in force for what promised to be a great time for all. What the crowd had no way to know is that the evening’s first band would come close to blowing the venerable ska legends off the stage.
The Strangeways, from Sarasota, took the stage and proceeded to make it their own. Most of the audience had no idea who they were, but by a few songs in, the Strangeways had completely won the crowd over. Playing in a style largely reminiscent of the (English) Beat, the band fairly dripped energy, which only served to feed the crowd’s frenzy. Virtually the entire audience was dancing up a storm to the bass-heavy harmonies and undeniably catchy melodies. To top things off, the Toasters’ ultra-smooth trumpet master, the one and only Sledge, joined them for a stunning cover of Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” By the time the Strangeways were done, I didn’t know if the older bands would be able to live up to the challenge set before them.
Bim Skala Bim came out next, and met the challenge head on. To be honest, their sound, a hard-edged rock-ska hybrid, doesn’t really do much for me, but it can’t be denied that the band has a lot of talent, especially their horn players. They’re very good at what they do, I just don’t happen to care for it. Still, I was decidedly in the minority, as the crowd roared its approval for song after song, and seemed disappointed that they only played a short set.
Finally, the Toasters took the stage. Leader Rob “Bucket” Hingley gave the Strangeways their due as he took the stage, dedicating the first song to them because “they fucking rock!” With that, the Toasters tore into a stunning set that was evenly divided between old favorites and new material from the just-released Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down. Surprisingly, the crowd reaction was just as strong for the new stuff as it was for the classics. The new “Fire in my Soul” stood out as a particular highlight, with the entire crowd singing along (in key even)! Frontman Jack Ruby, Jr., has become quite a commanding presence in the band, tearing up the stage, toasting up a storm, and driving the crowd to unheard of levels of energy. When the band played “2Tone Army,” I was afraid the audience was going to take up arms in a religious zeal and follow the Toasters into battle! For me, though, the greatest moments were when the Sledge took center stage, leading the band in rousing renditions of Spencer Davis’ “Gimme Some Lovin,” the brand new “Rude, Rude Baby,” and, on the encore, the all-time classic “Mona.” The Toasters did a great job of showing where seventeen years of experience gets you.
All three bands gave the crowd a night they’d remember for a long time to come. There was nary a misstep made, and the entire packed house went home with smiles on their faces and sore feet from dancing the night away.