SHOW REVIEW: ENGINE 54/The Feds/Ten Dollar Mic
March 20, 1998--Portland, Oregon (Roseland)
By: Alex Steininger
Kicking off Engine 54's CD release party was Ten Dollar Mic. Regularly an eight piece band, they were down to a six piece this night, due to the fact two of their horn players were out of the country. Mixing traditional ska, a bit of punk, and a lot of third wave ska they form their own sound. A good sound at that. The live music they performed wasn't bad at all, but they did do some very annoying things which ultimately made me dismiss their performance as needing lots of improvement. First off, they played one song, switched instruments, then played some more songs. And once again they did an instrument change. Sure, this shows how very talented they are, but other than that it's quite annoying. The other thing they did that really bugged me was trading off lead singers on different songs. They also traded off singers on the verse and chorus of one song. All that aside, they weren't that bad. The music was enjoyable, and they did get a few of the hundred or so people up and dancing. If they tighten up a bit on the stage, and work out a stronger hold on the music they could really make an impression someday.
Next up was the Feds. Hailing from Vancouver, Washington they played a tight set of traditional ska. From the first song they played, they got a lot of the crowd on their feet, and really started to take command of this show. Their horns were bright and powerful, glowing all through the club. Their upright bass playin' lead singer fronted the band nicely with his great vocals, and gift for gaining the crowds attention. They even were able to add humor in their set, and not make it come off like cheesy humor a band does to try and take the crowd's mind off their imperfect playing. Introducing the new members of the band, their new percussionist was on stage doing one crazy thing after another, while the lead singer kept telling him to get behind his drums. A little entertainment in between songs is a good thing. The rest of their set was great as well. One good song after another. They even pulled off some amazing instrumentals. The Feds were definitely the appropriate warm-up band for Engine 54, and I must admit, after the Feds energetic set, I wondered if Engine 54 could match their intensity and put a dynamic end to this show. And the answer was definitely YES!
After a long wait, the band of the night came on. Engine 54 quickly introduced themselves, mentioned this was a CD release party, and that would be playing lots of their numbers off the new CD, and then dove right into a song. Right then I knew they would double the energy level brought forth by the Feds, which is really an amazing accomplishment. Their horn section was thick and rich, their drummer kept the back bone of the band nicely, and their second percussionist not only added some Jamaican grooves to the music, but he added a stage presence along with the lead singer. Together the two of them made Engine 54's music come to life. With a live personality going for the band, they captured everyone's attention and helped spread the joy of the evening with their music. By this time the majority of the crowd was dancing, because they knew who they came to see. Even if they weren't there to see Engine 54, Engine 54's music was so vivid and lively, you couldn't help but dance with them. Especially with the hot upbeat courtesy of the guitar player, and the thump of the bass. The music was hot, and the mood was right. Engine 54 put on one heck of a show. Truly energetic, lively, and full of good tunes, this is one live show that will only grow and get better with time.
With a new CD in their belts, Engine 54 should tour. For everyone that isn't lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest, I can only hope that they'll tour for your sake, so you can check them out. Live these guys are just amazing. Nothing short of a good time. They put on one energetic show that won't be forgotten. Look for a review of their new CD on Simmerdown Records in our next issue.
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