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Toasters Headline the 10th Annual Seattle Ska Fest Kicking Off A New Month of Fine Live Music at El Corazon, By Holly Homan

Poke Da Squid

Poke Da Squid

Friday night was the start of a new month and the kickoff of what looks to be a very busy month in Seattle for great bands playing live music. And what a kickoff this was! This kick off runs rings around the kickoffs I will be avoiding on Super Bowl Sunday.

Unfortunately I missed the first band of the night due to circumstances beyond my control, but I did arrive in time to see one of my favorite locals, Poke Da Squid play their entire set. If any Seattle readers haven’t seen them yet, DO! This Seattle trio had a constant circle pit going with their pop/punk songs and charismatic style. It was a pleasure to see them again. They not only ooze charisma, they’re damn cute! Singer MJ contains enough charisma and energy to run Seattle’s power grid for several hours. In the words of Grand Moff Tarkin, charming to the last. By his own admission, he was quite ill, but if he hadn’t mentioned this, I wouldn’t have known the difference. His performance seemed in no way impeded. Dimple on bass and Larry on drums liven things up with their frequent jokes and youthful exuberance. I doubt anyone in this band exceeds the age of 25. The highlight of this show had to be their punked up, speeded up version of the old Carpenters’ hit, “Close to You.” I have always despised that song, but these guys made a crappy, schmaltzy song sound riveting, rivaling the Circle Jerks cover of several deplorable songs with Golden Shower of Hits.

The Seattle music scene is once again garnering attention nationally and deservedly so. There’ is a lot of musical talent in this town and Poke Da Squid are at the top of that talent pool.

Following Poke Da Squid was Mrs. Skannotto, a six piece ska combo from Rochester, NY. Just about the time they came on stage I realized that horrible plush carpet was gone from the dance floor. Perhaps it was blown off by the sheer power of the rock/ska put forth by this band. I am most grateful. Seriously, though, Mrs. Skannotto provided hard driving power with the rich, guttural vocals of Joe Harmon and a wild horn section as well as powerful guitar, drums and bass. At times their songs seemed more harder rock with a heavy dose of ska while at other times they seemed more heavily ska than rock and I distinctly heard elements of Sublime. They delivered songs such as “Hired Gun,” which they claimed was about political pundits and zombies. The circle pit continued unabated their entire set. When they left the stage and the smoke cleared from their sheer energy, a lanky guy sporting a purple ponytail came out and entertained the crowd with jokes while stage hands (one of whom looked like Woody Allen) hurried to get the stage ready for the next band — the legendary, godfathers of American ska, The Toasters. (Though front man singer/guitarist Robert Hingley AKA Bucket / Buck – Guitar, Vocals is originally from England, the band claims NYC as home). When they lit into their classic, “Shocker,” a smartly dressed dude hopped onto the stage and began to dance. A great dancer, he provided as much entertainment as the band. Very quickly a very large dude joined him and they danced on stage on and off through out most the show and were joined by a couple girls for a song or two.

At one point Bucket grinned at me and mockingly threatened that if I didn’t write a good review of their show, I might not get a free ticket next time. But how could I NOT write a good review of my beloved Toasters? They’re incapable of putting on a bad show. This is my third or fourth time seeing them and I’ve never been disappointed. Although the first time I saw them at the Bumbershoot festival in 1996 and I spent most the time chasing around my then six-year-old son. When Bucket broke a string on his guitar (a rare occurrence by his own admission), the band had to improvise while he went backstage to replace (as he said, his G-string). When he returned, we were treated to more of their classics such as “Weekend In LA,” “Decision At Midnight” and “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” (which Bucket dedicated to all the crooked politicians). Everyone in the packed club sang along. When The Toasters left the stage, it was announced that the Skablins would play next. After realizing The Toasters wouldn’t return for an encore, most everyone left, leaving only a few to stay on and enjoy what was to follow. And those of you who left, you should stick around and witness bands you’ve never seen before. Broaden your horizons because you deprived yourselves of a couple very fun bands. The Skablins are as much fun as a carnival ride, but longer (except for this night. Their show was far too short). This is largely due to front man Gordy Whyte (who sported a white t-shirt with bold letters saying Skautomatic Weapon). I don’t know where he gets his energy, but he has to be the most energetic front man of any Seattle band and quite possibly the most fun. Adding to the Skablins’ manic energy is the dancing about by Buster Larsh when he’s not playing his trombone or feeding off the charisma of Cierra Wagner (also on sax and definitely the cutest member). And I still maintain that guitarist Jacob Wikan is Jimmy Page’s long lost son both in looks and playing ability. Ska fans everywhere should venture out en masse to see The Skablins. Their way too short set included a cover of The (godly) Kinks’ “Come Dancing” and ended with their version of the classic Hell (more commonly known as “The Afterlife”). Those who remained were blown away by the Skablins and rightly so.

Finishing off the evening was Seattle’s Nigel Mustafa. They have this front man, Stevie P, who can give Rob Morgan (legendary leader of The Squirrels) a run for his money. He gyrates, he kicks, he jumps about as if the stage were covered in embers. Nigel Mustafa boasts a few of the same members of The Skablins (including Jimmy Page’s son Jacob Wikan only this time he played keyboard). Musically this five-piece band plays very poppy songs but with a heavy smattering of a reggae beat. They even played an old Police song — “So Lonely” — which was sung by guitarist Bill Keaton who sounded eerily like Sting.

After the night ended I realized that what Seattle needs is a three-day ska fest. Seattle’s burgeoning ska scene is ripe for something like this and we can invite ska bands from outside Seattle. Any promoters out there up to the task? We can have it outside at Marymoor Park some time this summer. As for now, I’ve added Nigel Mustafa to my roster of great Seattle ska bands. The Tenth annual Seattle Ska Fest was a success and for all you who left after The Toasters, I hope you’re reading this and feeling ashamed for not sticking around to see the wildly fun bands that followed.

Holly Homan

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