This past week we heard the Skatalites would be in town and we lined up for tickets. For anyone who has not seen their show, they put on an amazing set and there is no way to listen to them without dancing. Once it hits, you are hooked.
We set out for a new venue, American Beauty. This is a great new spot, which has been hosting lots of good reggae music recently. It’s a small bar with a venue in the back, which holds about 300, making it a great place to see a show, intimate enough that there are no bad “seats”, but large enough that you still get the energy of the crowd. With $20 show tickets, a reasonably priced and decently curated bar, plus free pizza with every drink, American Beauty can’t be missed anyone looking for a genuine NYC night out on a budget.
The music kicked off with The Pandemics, a local 8 piece Ska band. They refer to themselves as a Ska Army with one goal, to spread their infectious brand of NY Ska Punk to the masses until skanking in the streets causes a mass hysteria. Which is exactly what they did. With a mix of their own works and some amazing covers they had the crowd jumping and jiving. Their dual trumpet players seemed to taunt one another as they revved up the crowd through song after song. You can see photos and video of their performance below. The next time you see them on a billing in NYC you better check it out, or you’ll suffer Pandemic.
With the room packed and the crowd fired up, it was time for the Skatalites. The Skatalites have a great following no matter where they go and NYC is no exception. Having been able to sit down and speak with Ken Stewart, their keyboard player, before the show we were excited for the set including jams from their new album Platinum Ska. One beautiful thing about the Skatalites, a band that has been making a driving force in Ska music for decades is that they attract a diverse crowd. As Ken said, “We draw them, from age 2 to 90 is our audience man. All of them be moving something in their body when they hear it. “ It’s great to be at an event and see young kids who just found out about the music dancing alongside their parents and maybe even grandparents who have loved it for years. This was that kind of show.
The Skatalites kicked off their set with “Latin Goes Ska” and early 1964 original that set the vibe for their set. Horns blaring, base drum thumbing, everyone dancing, high energy ska. After a few songs they paid tribute to the late Prince Buster, who passed away last week. His influence on reggae and ska music is immeasurable and they took time to recognize that. Diving into “Bangarang” they took the crowd through some classics of early Jamaica and the great Prince.
Then we were graced by Doreen Shaffer, one of the last remaining members of the original Skatalites. She who took the stage with an extraordinary rendition of “My Boy Lollipop” which sent everyone into cheers. She followed with “Nice Time” by Bob Marley & The Wailers. Each familiar track was born anew, dressed in Ska overtones as it was performed live by this legendary band. The Skatalites continued their trip down memory lane with more classics like “Can’t You See” by Delroy Wilson. The crowd never seemed to tire, singing along to each tune and jamming as the extended ska solos played through.
As the set came to a close, the audience was treated to upbeat versions of “Simmer Down,” an early Wailers track from when they were The Wailing Wailers and then two classic Ska tracks “Guns of Navarone” by the “Phoenix City” both by the Skatalites. Classic and new, rich and affordable, it was a NYC night to remember.
The Skatalites are one of the few bands that I think could tour forever. They can always find new members and they will always have a fan base – feats they probably only share with the Wailers. When they were asked if they will ever stop playing music they said “the answer is simple: never – It’s the love of the music and the way our fans respond that keep us going forward!”