SHOW REVIEW: Hepcat/The Slackers/The Gadjits
March 11, 1998--Portland, Oregon (La Luna)
By: Alex Steininger
March 11 was Portland's night of ska all around town. At the Roseland we had the Skatalites with Let's Go Bowling and Franceska, while at La Luna the "Hellcat tour" was paying us a visit. With all this competition between clubs, I wasn't sure what kind of reception Hepcat would receive. Would everyone flock to see the forefathers of ska, or would they check out Hepcat, The Slackers, and The Gadjits who are all touring in support of their recent albums (all of them damn fine I might add)?
I arrived about ten minutes into The Gadjits' set. Pumping out their infectious blend of pop and ska, the music was falling on deaf ears. The crowd was sparse, and it looked as if the Skatalites had won over the fans for the night. To make matters worse, the small crowd wasn't even making use of what they had. Normally La Luna packs the shows so full, dancing is out of the question. But there was plenty of room, and everyone still seemed as stiff as a board. Brandon Phillips, lead singer of The Gadjits, even commented on the crowd. "You guys make Vancouver look wild. You make them look like a crowd at a Biohazard show. Man, compared to you guys they were wild." I don't know if it was the words, of the fact that they then busted into "Traffic Tickets" that made the crowd so excited, but once the words "traffic tickets get me down, make me feel like I'm a clown, speed limit 25" came out of the P.A. the crowd showed signs of life. Cheering and screaming loudly, the band knew the song would be well received. As the guitar started going, everyone started to dance. The keyboards sizzled through the P.A., bringing out a sound that isn't completely captured on the album. Jumping through some more songs, the crowd kept on dancing, and The Gadjits had done their job...the crowd was now ready to move to The Slackers.
As the Slackers were setting up, people started to pour out of the walls, filling up the dance floor. No longer was there a shortage of people, as the lights dimmed and the Slackers hit the stage, the floor was almost packed. Well deserved, of course, because anyone who decided to skip the Slackers would have missed a lot. From the get go they got the crowd moving. The temperature started to rise, as the horn section let the love flow through their golden notes, and the vocals packed the soul needed to make everyone feel comfortable and energetic. Vic Ruggiero has amazingly powerful vocals attached to him, and recorded they sound great. But live, oh how they come to life. Magnify the soul and passion he puts into the music by a hundred, and you've got the idea. So smooth when he wants them to be, and rough when he demands it, they flow freely and energetically. Marq Lyn compliments Vic's vocals perfectly with his own, and throws in a strong stage presence as well. Going from one number to another, while the crowd continued to get larger and dance more intensely, they played their instrumental tribute to the Skatalites' legendary tenor saxophonist, Tommy McCook on "Cooking for Tommy" as well as such albums standouts as "Married Girl," which drew loud applause from the audience, "Watch This," their self-proclaimed song about fried chicken ("Fried Chicken/Mary Mary"), as well as the title track to their debut for Hellcat Records, "Redlight." Putting on a perfect show, and showing off their immense stage presence, they gave the fans everything they could have hoped for, and left you to wonder if Hepcat could even come close to their energetic show.
By this time the dance floor was full, and it looked as if Hepcat and La Luna were giving the Skatalites and the Roseland a run for their money. Hepcat took the stage, and the applause erupted. Everyone was smiling and happy, and they couldn't wait for the party to continue. Quickly jumping into their first number, everyone started to dance and move to the music. The music flowed out of the speakers, and filled the club from top to bottom. The breezy Caribbean feeling was spread throughout the club, and as the sweat and body heat rose, it almost felt as if we were on a tropical island under the intense heat of the sun as well. Jumping into "I Can't Wait," everyone burst into a dancing frenzy. The horns soothed everyone, melting them like butter, while the two vocalists pranced and danced around stage, spreading the love in the room with their voices. Both of them added tremendously to the stage presence of the band, but each member held their own. The two vocalists, Greg Lee and Alex Desert, commanded most of the attention, as they slide around the stage with ease. "No Worries" was also another stand out of the show. It was very well received, and it seemed almost everyone in the crowd knew the words or the melody. And if they didn't, they still enjoyed it very much, and made their bodies move to the music. Some other great numbers they did included "Mama Used To Say," "Rudies All Around," (both off their debut for Hellcat Records, RIGHT ON TIME), as well as their underground classic "Bobby and Joe," off of their previous album (SCIENTIFIC on B.Y.O. Records.) Driving through all the hits, more hits, and even more grand songs, they performed everything anyone could have asked for. And then it came time for the encore. The clapping, yelling, and stomping of the feet brought the band out for some more music. Usually bands do one or two more numbers and call it a night, but not Hepcat. They put every piece of energy they had, and gave the audience four more powerful grooves. And these aren't two minute three chord pop songs either. These are all out traditional ska melodies that force you to move, much of them lasting four minutes or more. And the band doesn't stand around during that time period either. They were up on stage as if they hadn't even left, jumping right back from where they left off. Finishing up the night, both the audience and the performers walked away with a smile on their face, and sweat dripping all over their bodies. Nobody walked away disappointed.
All three of the bands are very fun, and very distinctive in their musical styles. The Gadjits get you jumping and bopping around, while the Slackers and Hepcat slow it down and make you feel the vibrant grooves, thus forcing your body to move. None of these bands should be missed live, so if the "Hellcat tour" hits your town, or these bands come individually to your town, don't miss them. Especially Hepcat, who puts on a tremendous sound live, as well as a show you'll never forget.