Independents Day Tour
featuring the Toasters, Slow Gherkin, the Skoidats, and Edna’s Goldfish
The State Theater, St. Petersburg, FL • November 21, 1998
The philosophy of the Independents Day Tour, cosponsored by Moon Ska Records (home of three of the bill’s bands) and Asian Man Records (home of the odd men out, Slow Gherkin), was a simple one. According to the press material, the tour was “meant to take ska back from the hands of the corporates (sic) who shamelessly exploited a style of music that has never and will never go away.” The rhetoric didn’t seem to matter to the average fan at the State Theater, though — they were just there to hear some great music. That much was easy on this tour, and even easier on the East Coast. While the bulk of the tour featured the Toasters, Slow Gherkin, and the Skoidats, beginning with the Florida dates, New York ska-rock sensations Edna’s Goldfish joined the tour, and Germany’s reigning king of traditional ska, Dr. Ring Ding, joined the Toasters on trombone and vocals.
First up on this incredible bill were my new heroes, Edna’s Goldfish. “We’re here to warm you up,” lead singer Brian Diaz quipped as the band took the stage and launched into a tight set of tunes from their debut release, Before You Knew Better. For some unknown reason, the crowd seemed intent on giving the band a hard time almost from the start. I can’t understand that at all, because Edna’s Goldfish put on one hell of a performance, showcasing their melodic, rock-influenced ska, which immediately put me in the mind of Spring Heeled Jack, although the Goldfish throw in a touch of emo for good measure. The band really earned my respect by keeping up their high-energy attitude despite sullen stares and outright heckling from some audience members (to which they shot back “I bet we sell more CDs than you!”). All in all, Edna’s Goldfish proved themselves to be both professional and a hell of a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see them again.
Next up were the Skoidats, who dedicated their set to absent lead singer/guitarist Justin Dillavou, who was recovering from an ulcer operation. Saxophonist John Chapman took Dillavou’s place at the mic, while a succession of guitarists from the other bands rotated on and off the stage for the short set. Chapman was boisterous in the spotlight, spasmodically flailing about while leading the band through a set of tunes from their debut full-length, The Times. At first, crowd reaction seemed lackluster, despite fine live versions of their distinctive ska/Oi! hybrid songs, even through a particularly sweet-sounding “Moonstomp.” But when the band hauled out the beer-drinking shout-alongs, like “Last Night,” “The Times,” and of course, “Beer, Beer, Beer,” the audience was soon obliging, shouting along and toasting the Skoidats in kind. All in all, it wasn’t a bad set, but I really want to see these guys at full strength.
The Skoidats were quickly followed by the oxymoronically hyperkinetic Slow Gherkin. The boys from Santa Cruz, CA didn’t stop moving for one second, as they whizzed through a fast-paced set of tunes largely drawn from their latest record, the fantastic Shed Some Skin. The four-man horn section was tight and together, contributing to the band’s power, while a solid groove from bassist Zack Kent got the crowd dancing. Lead singer James Rickman was magnetic, lurching over the mic with the presence of a young Iggy Pop or Jim Morrison. That’s hardly to slight the rest of the band, though, many of whom were “not wearing underwear.” Slow Gherkin were devastatingly powerful, charging ever-onward despite several technical problems (Rickman even danced with his broken guitar string, at one point!), and ending their set with complete, stage-wide destruction, falling all over each other, playing leapfrog, and generally having a blast. Slow Gherkin put on a show I won’t soon forget. They need to visit again, and soon!
Finally, the Toasters took the stage to the strains of their version of Spencer Davis’ “Gimme Some Lovin’,” as the smoothest man on Earth, trumpet man the Sledge, took the mic and got the crowd dancing! It’s a credit to the Toasters that the band was playing with only three of their regular members, (Bucket, Sledge, and frontman Jack Ruby, Jr.), yet still sounded as polished and professional as ever. As mentioned above, sitting in on trombone was the incomparable Dr. Ring Ding. The Doctor was an enthusiastic presence on the stage, not only with his horn work, but joining in on background vocals, toasting, and busting some outrageous dance moves!
The Toasters played all the hits and then some, and the crowd sang and cheered for each number. Particular highlights included “I’m Running Right Through the World,” which featured some tight harmonies, a sweet, grooving version of “Thrill Me Up,” and a boisterous “History Book,” but the real highlight was seeing two master toasters, di Doctor and Ruby, facing off in battle on the mic! Another exciting moment came when a stage invader stole Ruby’s beer, prompting a hilarious improvised rap about what he was gonna do to the guy that took it! There was a somber moment among all the antics, as the band dedicated “Run Rudy Run” to the legendary Roland Alphonso of the Skatalites, who had passed away just a day before, but the Toasters quickly bounced back with “2 Tone Army” turning the memoriam into a celebration of ska. The set wound down as “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” ripped the roof off the building, leaving the crowd screaming for more.
The Sledge quickly returned to the stage, letting the crowd know they were going to have to make a lot more noise if they wanted to hear more. The audience responded boisterously, and the Toasters quickly returned for a stunning rendition of “Mona.” But that wasn’t all! As “Mona” wound up, most of the members of the other bands joined the Toasters, forming a 17-man strong ensemble, which launched into a stellar, solo-filled, absolutely devastating take on “Matt Davis” to close out the evening. All things considered, I’m not sure if the Independents Day Tour succeeded at its stated purpose, but I do know that it provided for one memorable night of music, which is all that really matters, anyway.