Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tunesday (ska edition): "Break The Glass," Suicide Machines

First, let me say this: I am still a fan of ska. Don't hate. I became hooked on the horns, upstroke guitar and bass scales of the third wave. It's a fun genre in small-to-medium doses. Most of the music is fairly upbeat, but there are myriad styles of ska from that third wave. The era's groups included jokesters (Skankin' Pickle, "I'm In Love With A Girl Named Spike"), part-time jokesters (Less Than Jake, "Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts"), 2 Tone (The Toasters, "Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down") and some clever portmanteaus (Mephiskapheles, The Skatalites, Bim Skala Bim).

Originally called Jack Kevorkian and the Suicide Machines (that'll get your attention on a poster), this skacore outfit shortened its name when it signed a deal with major label Hollywood Records (probably avoided litigation, too). Practically every second of the band's first album — 1996's "Destruction By Definition" — blew me away when I first heard it (well, maybe not the "Vans Song") The 16 songs are still smokers — clocking in at a total 37 minutes, the speed and energy make up for lackluster lyrics.

I was fortunate to see the "DBD" lineup play at Deep Ellum Live (remember that place?) in 1997, sandwiched in between Shades Apart and headliner Descendents. SM whipped the crowd into a frenzy. I was there with my friend Karen, so we stayed away from the pit. As the set wore on, the crowd became more raucous and the pit grew, but I was mesmerized by the stage presence of the group. It was the first punk concert I attended where the music was just as good live as it was on the album. I also remember bassist Royce killing dead time between songs by playing "Stairway to Heaven."

And, I really remember seeing a gnarly compound fracture of the tibia — my first up-close experience with such a wound. A random dude was chewed up in the pit and spit out. He landed near Karen, his screams silenced by the loud sound system. But, seeing how severely broken his leg was and realizing he didn't need to be on a smokey club's beer, spit and whatever-else covered floor, we picked him up and carried him outside the venue to wait for the ambulance that the bouncer called for, effectively ending the concert for us. We could have gone back in to see Descendents, but we figured the club's atmosphere could possibly get worse. By far, that was my most insane concert experience.

So yeah, the album that led me to that show never fails to get me hyped. The followup disc, "Battle Hymns" was too polished, not chaotic like "DBD"; so I stopped listening to the band and eventually ska all together for a few years. But any time I'm looking for a boost, "Break The Glass," "Hey" or "New Girl" never fail.  

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