Spring Heeled Jack USA
with Pilfers and the Smooths
The State Theater, St. Petersburg, FL • January 28, 1999
Another great night of ska hit the State Theater, as three of the sharpest non-traditionalists around came together for a night of high-energy excitement. Perhaps as a result of the high-exposure touring all three bands have done recently (Spring Heeled Jack and Pilfers have each toured with the mega-popular Reel Big Fish over the last year, while the Smooths were a highlight of last summer’s Warped Tour), this show drew a good-size crowd that came to dance and shout along, and all three bands rose to the occasion.
Baltimore’s favorite sons (and daughter), the Smooths, hit the stage all decked out in black, and quickly launched into their short set. As the incredible “In the Grass” began, singer Tommy Gilhuley encouraged the crowd to come forward, and got an immediate reaction — suddenly, everyone was dancing and singing along! The Smooths just get tighter every time I see them. Their set was driven by a solid groove from Jeff Brigman on bass and Jeb Crandall on keys, while the always-incredible horn section of Tim Doscher on trombone, Tim Hoenig on tenor sax. and Jenny Stillwagon on baritone sax carried the punchy hooks that make the songs stick in your head. Highlights included “Get By,” which featured some really sweet harmonies between Tommy and Jenny, and “Drunk Again.” The band ended the set (appropriately enough) with a powerful and rambunctious “Farewell.” Hey, Smooths! Get back to town soon — no more two year waits between visits!
New York’s Pilfers took the stage next, opening with an odd choice, the mellow “One Day,” but as soon as the song ended, inimitable frontman Coolie Ranx jumped into the crowd, and as the band launched into “Yakuza,” the tone for the rest of the set. Coolie himself described it best later in the set: “Non-stop motion. Energy level — up here,” jumping in the air and indicating a point far above his head. A large portion of the crowd, especially the throng of screaming teenage girls, treated the band like big rock stars (which they should be!). Highlights included a melodic “Generation,” a barnstorming “Show No Fear,” and Coolie pulling one of the aforementioned girls up on stage to dance with him on “Climbing.” As the set ended with a driving “Shits Up in the Air,” Coolie leapt back into the crowd, followed closely by trombonist Vinny Nobile, and you’d have been hard-pressed to find someone that wasn’t pogoing and skanking along. Pilfers would certainly be a hard act to follow!
Luckily, they were followed by band that made it look effortless, the bottomless reservoir of energy known as Spring Heeled Jack USA. The stage was ominously lit in blue as the band took the stage one at a time, an equally ominous bass line snaking along until at last, trumpet player Tyler Jones came on to count down into a rendition of “Peter Gunn” as a brief intro. From there, it was non-stop excitement mingled with the trademark Jack humor, as the band charged through a set mostly taken from their newest record, Songs From Suburbia . A grooving “Makisupa Policeman” (featuring saxophonist Pete Wasilewski chiming in on harmonies) led straight into a tight and powerful version of their classic “Addicted,” while “Pop Song (Green)” ended with a tasty indie-rock flavored bass solo from Rick Omonte. Coolie Ranx joined the band onstage for a killer rendition of “Man of Tomorrow” before the set closed with a triumphant “Jolene,” as Pete mimicked the song’s video by pretending to drive. The only thing that was wrong with Spring Heeled Jack’s set is that it wasn’t long enough! More, please!
All in all, it was an auspicious beginning for the year in ska. If tonight’s show set the tone for the year to come, it’s going to be a great one!