Laurel Aitken & the Allstonians

Laurel Aitken & the Allstonians

Sapphire Supper Club, Orlando, FL • July 16, 1999

Upon hearing that Laurel Aitken was playing in Orlando, I played hooky from work to get a jump-start on the trek up from Tampa, as if arriving in O-Town early could make the Godfather of Ska get to the stage faster. Making the trip even more exciting was the knowledge that the esteemed Mr. Aitken would be backed by the top-notch Boston band, the Allstonians, who would start out the evening with a set of their own material. This wasn’t simply another show, it was an event!

The Allstonians took the stage and quickly launched into a brand-new tune called “Sean Connery,” an instrumental that really showed off the band’s powerful horn section. From there, the Allstonians’ set was made up equally of classic material from their back catalog, including tasty renditions of “Living in Allston, Mass.,” “Mariachi Go Ska,” and “Spike,” and some impressive new material (some of which is available on a new demo CD available at http://www.allstonians.com). I particularly liked the sweetly romantic “One Day” and the reggae flavor of “Death in the Arena.” An exuberant rendition of “D-Train to Allston” rounded out the Allstonians’ tight opening set, and they quickly shuffled off stage, leaving the audience in breathless anticipation of the master’s presence.

After what seemed like forever, the Allstonians reappeared and launched into the distinctive groove of the classic “Hey Bartender.” The anticipation built to a fever pitch, then finally, a resounding cheer went up as the Godfather sauntered onto the stage to take the mic. Laurel Aitken worked the crowd with obvious enthusiasm and energy that belied his 72 years, as the Allstonians provided solid backup for a set made up of favorites like “Perfidia” and the bluesy “Boogie in My Bones.” The crowd roared its approval for each and every song, but when the band kicked into Aitken’s best-loved tune, “Sally Brown” — and then mixed in just a touch of the skinhead reggae classic “Longshot Kick De Bucket” — it was like putting a match to a powder keg!

Speaking of skinheads, they turned out in force for the man who’s known as “Boss Skinhead,” and their antics added to the evening’s enjoyment — when the band played “Skinhead Train,” the skins actually formed a train and did a conga! Still, Aitken wasn’t just there for the skins, and when he dedicated “Mad About You” to the adoring crowd, it was clear that he had as much love and affection for his fans as they had for him.

Indeed, after leaving the crowd with a rousing “Hitchhike,” Aitken and the Allstonians quickly returned for more, “because we love you,” Aitken commented. Again tipping his hat to the skins with “Skinhead,” he was soon joined onstage by a gaggle of them. After dancing with them joyfully, he wound out the night with a rousing “Rudi Wedding.” Despite the crowd’s lingering cries for more, I’d guess that nobody went home disappointed. I’ll treasure the memories of this amazing show for a long time to come.

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