Spring Heeled Jack USA and the CT Ska Revival

Ska lives again.

Spring Heeled Jack USA
City: Milford, CT
Date: 2011-12-10

It seems someone neglected to inform me that there was a ska revival going on in Connecticut. For the past few years, Asbestos Records has been working with classic ska artists to reissue their albums on vinyl, or as they put it release a "dead genre on a dead format". It’s a nostalgic moment taken to the next level. So far, they've dug up old ska acts and started a 7" singles club. They are currently running a Kickstarter with Underground Communique Records to reissue a few more gems including albums from Pilfers and The Pietasters. A bonus perk for ska fans is that some of these bands are performing again to promote the reissues and to just generally have a good time. And so it came to be that Connecticut's Spring Heeled Jack USA (the extra identification was given to distinguish the ska band from the electronic band) played two nights at Toad's Place in May of 2010.

Fast forward a year and a half and we find Ron Ragona and Mike Pellegrino, guitarists and vocalists from SHJ, backed by a drummer friend in Milford. In this formation, without horns or additional instrumentation, the reduced outfit played a de-skankified set. But for the crowd pushed up close to the stage, a few of whom were dressed in two-tone attire, these songs played through much of their adolescence and just hearing them live again brought back grade school memories. A number of openers, including Vic Ruggiero of The Slackers, prepped the audience though, while they too did not perform proper ska, they hailed from bands rooted in the same scene.

SHJ's set was a reprisal of much of the material from the band's two albums, Static World View (1996) and Songs from Suburbia (1998) (needless to say, these two third wave ska albums are amongst the vinyl reissues from Asbestos). The band had plenty of time to be intimate with their fans, welcoming the audience to sing along to their songs and thanking them for coming out. With the mike pointed at them, the crowd shared in the "whoa-whoa-whoas" of "Pop Song". The band teased the crowd with The B-52s "Love Shack" but instead went into their "most known" song "Jolene". Partly drunk but mostly having fun, the crowd screamed along during the chorus "Jolene, we know / that you'll never let us go". It’s almost apt to say the same applies to the ska wave that hit my generation before the new millennium.


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Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

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