This week, Reel Big Fish, The Pilfers, and Mu330's Dan Potthast play The Pageant. 'Tis a rarity among ska bills, in that each artist progressed through its career but never fully moved away from its birth genre. Others' careers have been less successful, both artistically and commercially. Here are the six most misguided career moves by ska bands. Let us know your favorites or least favorites in the comments below.
6. Going New Wave
There is more than a coincidence between the decreasing popularity of ska in the early 2000s and the rise of danceable, new-wave leaning rock bands. The Hippos made the move first by buying a bunch of Moog synthesizers. The Aquabats added more Devo to its recipe as the ska demands lessened. These were fairly successful transitions, but the worst offender might be Skabba The Hut, the ill-named band who eventually morphed into ill-fated dance band The Bravery.
BEFORE: AFTER: 5. Going Swing
This phenomenon might seem laughable, since in some minds the only thing more disposable than third wave ska was the late 90s swing revival. But Cherry Poppin' Daddies led the march, going from a standard bouncy ska band to a full-on "Zoot Suit Riot." This transition is so regrettable because of how committed to style the swing revivalists had to be to seem even remotely legit. A handful of bands followed Cherry Poppin' Daddies, but other than Christian ska band The W's, even the Internet has forgotten about all of them.
4. Covering A Hip Song For Cred
In the Napster era, one could search "ska cover" and find an enormous list of 80s and 90s hits pepped up with some horns and upbeats, sometimes without even a band to take credit. These covers could be formulaic, so sometimes the intention is more important than the actual interpretation. There are ironic covers and genuine covers. There are also cred covers, wherein the band chooses a song that will make the group appear cooler. In modern times, the most irking cover is "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service as interpreted by Streetlight Manifesto, a band with a history of questionable covers. This is a prime example of the cred cover's downfall - it is an exercise in showing off one's tastes that comes off as tasteless in the process.
BEFORE: AFTER: 3. Going Emo
This is a particularly fascinating trend to me, if only because I was a chubby, thrift-store shirt, black-frame glasses, bad haircut ska kid in high school who became a chubby, thrift-store shirt, black-frame glasses, bad haircut emo kid in college without changing anything. Most of the folks who consciously made this transition did so with a clean break. The ska band broke up, the emo band formed. Some bands folded emo into the pre-existing style, and if the band wasn't called The Impossibles, it was probably awful.
2. Abandoning Ska
The Blue Meanies was one of the most unique third wave ska bands, notorious for technical precision as a tool for weirdness. Check out "Smash The Magnavox" if you've never heard a ska horn section shred. When the band had the resources to make its major-label funded album The Post Wave, any hint of ska was gone - along with most of the Blue Meanies' established musical personality. No band needs its growth stunted, but a move this drastic can feel like betrayal to fans. This is particularly true in the case of a band like Blue Meanies who never seemed confined by ska in the first place.
BEFORE: AFTER: 1. Dropping The Horns
Less Than Jake always leaned toward the punk side of ska-punk. Sometimes, the only ska element to the band was its horn section, which is why the band's fans got so bummed when the band's brass was mostly absent from its 2005 record In With The Out Crowd. There is no hard and fast rule that ska bands need horns, but one that has them should probably keep them. Less Than Jake got the hint; guess what instruments featured prominently on the band's next album GNV FLA.