Some people claim that ska is dead. Although the constantly massive turnouts at Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto shows across the continent prove otherwise, I believe a better indicator of this kind of accusation can be seen at a local level. If Saturday night at Sneaky Dee’s with the likes of Slamboni, Copper Crown, and Cheap Suits was any indication of the state of the Toronto ska scene, well, fuck. Get the defibrillator ready, because we might have just lost her pulse.
As I went for a jog down to make it to the venue on time, I was surprised to see such an empty room. Cheap Suits were into the first minutes of their set when I showed up, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that there were probably around five people watching the show from the front of the stage. It’s a damn shame too, because they were such an enjoyable band. They played a surprisingly refreshing blend of classic rock mixed with simple ska elements. All five members, though some looking more bored than others, worked really well together to produce a clean and tight sound. The singer had a great rasp to his voice, and the songs themselves were good fun. A damn-near flawless set if you ask me, if only it weren’t for the kick pedal problems that the drummer was having mid-song, leaving the overall mix almost completely devoid of punchy bottom end.
As the venue started to accommodate a few more bodies, Copper Crown was gearing up to perform next. I was happy to see them on the bill that night. Considering I missed them open up for the Mad Caddies last month, this was a nice compromise. The ska-punk group did a good job of recreating the energy found on their recordings. Some confident stage movement from both the lead singer and the trumpet player definitely added to the experience. Gabrielle Brynes, the band’s vocalist, proved to be an entertaining front-woman as well, moving around the stage confidently, and having her body movements match the outgoing personality of her unique voice. She did struggle to hit lower notes throughout the set, and her soulful voice fronting a ska group is an acquired taste, but you really do gain an appreciation for it once your ears are settled. Give them your time, Copper Crown definitely have some big things in the works.
The venue was at respectable capacity by the time Slamboni went on stage. A couple dozen people were standing near the stage. Despite initial guitar problems that stalled the set for a few minutes, they were off to a solid start with all four members walking onstage with matching tank tops and freaking light-up shoes! Their look definitely complimented their fun, surf-rock sound. The singer had a strong voice that fit the genre, and the fast reggae strumming mixed with impressive lead guitar lines brought bands like Sublime to mind very quickly. Although I dug their sound, there was a major problem getting in the way of me enjoying Slamboni’s set: they were very sloppy. From a rhythmic standpoint, all four members rarely gelled together as a tight, cohesive unit. Their drummer was just slightly dragging behind the rest of the band more often than not, and his efforts to keep up with the fast music resulted in sloppy playing. It was a pretty subtle thing, but considering the same problem was present in almost every song, it was nearly impossible to keep excusing. The lead guitarist also had trouble following the rhythm section at times, despite his talent on the instrument. Still, Slamboni displayed enough of a fun vibe for me to forget this long enough to enjoy their set which was filled with great audience interaction, and a weird, half-improvised 90s hip-hop karaoke bit over one of their last songs. Those kinds of things definitely work when you’re friends with the whole audience.
Though each band had their fair share of problems and, admittedly an underwhelming turnout, it was definitely fun to experience a local ska show. In fact, I headed back home that night feeling a big sense of pride and happiness. Maybe it’s because I actually stuck around to chat with other human beings instead of heading straight home like the lame introvert I normally am. Crazy what human interaction does to people.
Written by Mathieu Perrier
Photography by Gabby Rivera
*edited by Danielle Kenedy