Reviews

Catch 22 + Mustard Plug + Big D and the Kids Table (Ska is Dead and You're Next! Tour)

Justin Peters
Catch 22 + Mustard Plug + Big D and the Kids Table (Ska is Dead and You're Next! Tour)

Catch 22 + Mustard Plug + Big D and the Kids Table (Ska is Dead and You're Next! Tour)

City: Washington DC
Venue: 9:30 Club
Date: 2004-02-23

Catch 22
Mustard Plug
Big D and the Kids Table
Those nameless, faceless shadows who are given to making sweeping pronouncements about the music industry like to say that nobody listens to ska anymore. They might be right, but you certainly couldn't tell from the crowd that packed DC's 9:30 Club on a Monday night to see the four bands on the Ska is Dead and You're Next! Tour. The kids were out in full force on Monday night, skanking away on the floor and on the balcony, apparently having missed the memo that NOBODY LISTENS TO SKA ANYMORE. Suckers. I missed opening act The Planet Smashers, but their T-shirts were cool, for what it's worth. The second band, Big-D and the Kids Table, came on with gusto, screaming like a cross between the Beastie Boys and Herb Alpert. They were energetic, which is good, and bad, which is� bad. Being bad isn't necessarily a deal-breaker -- ska is the brassy manifestation of happy energy, and if it's loud and danceable it goes a long way toward making up for being objectively bad. Big D was loud as hell and, as such, the crowd didn't seem to mind their awfulness. Lead singer Dave McWane bantered easily with the audience, jumping into the crowd numerous times despite having busted his head open in some ill-fated crowd surfing the previous week (a tale he recounted with glee, noting that "This tour is all about fuckin' yourself up.") Big-D was the hardest band of the night, with about a 4:1 screaming/singing ratio, featuring little of the melodicism for which Mustard Plug and Catch 22 are known. But their hardcore ambitions are kind of hard to take seriously, given that the Seth Green-looking bellowing McWane was backed by a bunch of horn-playing nerds in glasses. As such, it all just came down to a bunch of yelling over an incongrously chipper background, as the songs blended into one another without much deviation from the basic skacore formula. The new song "We've All Gotta Burn Something" was their best offering, what with its catchy chorus and arson-related lyrics. Still, Big-D was fun, and although I wouldn't pay much for one of their albums, I'd see them again if I was in a moshing mood. Mustard Plug was next, and they entered with great fanfare to the strains of the Imperial March from Star Wars, nattily attired in black to a man. Mustard Plug's been touring for 12 years, and they know how to please an audience. Frontman Dave Kirchgessner worked the crowd like Al Jolson, doing the cupped ear I-can't-hear-you several times when asking for audience response, jumping into the audience and letting fans take the mike to scream the choruses. But although the banter is engaging, it's the music that keeps the kids coming back. Mustard Plug's got the melodic ska-punk formula down pat, and although they weren't pushing any boundaries or exploring any new musical ground, they did a damn good job with the same old songs. Songs like "You" and "Box" featured some classic, energetic harmonies over well-written horn parts, and Kirchgessner's pleasant voice sounded strong and focused. The trombone shined during "Mr. Smiley", a song about some sort of jovial serial killer, as Kirchgessner took out a gigantic fake meat cleaver and started stabbing random audience members and bandmates, perhaps taking the "You're Next" part of the tour's name a bit too seriously. They almost lost me with the song "Lolita", with its stupid, stupid chorus making Nabokov cover his dead ears in his grave: "Lolita / I wanna meetcha / I wanna take you in my arms and squeeze ya." But they got me back with some well-placed regional pandering, as Kirchgessner noted how he was always "intimidated when I come here, because Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and the Pietasters all come from DC." At the mention of the Pietasters, someone near me noted that "they must be really fat by now after all that pie tasting." Fat and happy. Kirchgessner, like everyone else, seemed happy to be on the tour, playing music with friends, and he implored the audience to follow his lead: "Just get your friends together and do something cool. Can you promise that?" he asked, before they closed with the singalong "Beer Song", and I thought about all the idle 9:30 Club bartenders as the kids sang their hearts out to the oh-oh-oh chorus before going to get some water or something else non-alcohol related. After about 20 minutes, Catch 22 came out and, from the first moments of the first song, "On and On and On", asserted themselves as the best band on the tour -- faster, catchier, and better than any band so far. They exhibited none of Mustard Plug's visual coherence -- everyone was dressed in street clothes, the bassist looked to be about 17 years old, and their gaily-painted drumset was adorned with bright polka-dots -- but they were tight as hell when it came to the music they played. They played a lot of songs from their 1998 classic Keasbey Nights, arguably one of the best ska-punk albums ever. Opener "On and On and On" started hard, then broke down into Pachelbel's Canon in D, which in turn morphed into fast punk rhythm work under bright horns -- and the energy was kept up throughout the whole thing. "Giving Up Giving In" and "This One Goes Out To�" were paragons of skankable bliss, featuring Mustard Plug-esque harmonies over Pat Kays' intricate fretless basswork and Chris Greer's solid drumming. The song "Keasbey Nights" -- with its classic couplet "When they come for me, I'll be sitting at my desk / With a gun in my hand, wearing a bulletproof vest" -- was an exercise in fusion, referencing reggae and ragtime, prefacing chorale vocals with 3-part horn harmonies, exploring dynamics by going quiet then coming back loud as hell. Catch 22 is good because they slip these unexpected quiet moments into their songs -- pauses, brief dial-downs -- before jacking the noise back up even louder than before. The second-to-last number, "1234 1234", was another prime example of this, beginning softly before summoning all of the collective energy in the club for a raucous skaboom. Ska might not be for everyone, but I can't think of anybody who would not have enjoyed this show (possibly George Will). If ska is dead, this was one hell of a funeral.

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