Grand Rapids flyboys Mustard Plug
survived the great late-'90s commercial ska explosion, and all they got was a lousy touring van and a small but devoted following. Frantic guitar upstrokes, '50s crooner sensibilities, a dash of punk vitriol and a reggae-influenced rhythm section remain intact, and the music has retained a certain purity. No pop-punk mainstream concessions, no overblown MTV exposure and no airplay. Though it doesn't necessarily add anything new to ska's hyper-repetitious repertoire, Mustard Plug's sheer existence hearkens to a simpler time in the genre's history. All the historical touchstones are here: a self-financed demo cassette christened with a terrible ska-play-on-words title (1992's Skapocalypse Now!
); a prominent, much-revered debut CD for cult ska label Moon Records (1993's Big Daddy Multitude
); a goofy-yet-endearing cover tune that supplied the band with its closest brush with fame (a rousing version of "The Freshman" by the Verve Pipe); and various fleeting brushes with rock royalty (Weird Al Yankovic, schizophrenic cult icon Wesley Willis). In ska, history counts for more than your personal identity. Thus, Mustard Plug soldiers on -- energetic, fan-friendly and reliant upon a beat-up van.