CBJ (Saint Clair Shores, MI) was the ideal opening Ska punk band for We Are The Union, Have Nots and Big D and the Kids Table at Magic Stick in Detroit on Friday the 23rd. They set the tone for the show: a whirlwind of energy with slamming bodies, pumping fists and some good old skanking. They played a tight set with piercing horns and sax (Adam Gill on trumpet, Bud Koltys on trombone and Mark Van Baak on tenor sax), a steady bass (Josh Young), drums like a machine (Mike Land) and a spirited guitar (Tom Skill). They actually sounded a little like Big D themselves. CBJ played their new song “Burn it Up,”—fast paced with solid rhythms along with recognizable ones like, “Lets Get Drunk”—a drinking anthem and “Take it Too Slow,” (fondly known as “TITS”) a song that starts off at a somewhat slow tempo guided by horns and sax that builds up to floor pounding mayhem. In their half hour set, CBJ managed to prepare the crowd for a continuously energetic and fast-paced night.
We Are The Union (Detroit, MI) continued playing and the crowd got bigger as more people arrived. They are a nicely accomplished Punk/ska band in a short amount of time—with their frequent touring and playing with noteworthy bands like Mustard Plug and Voo Doo Glow Skulls. I’ll be honest, they don’t grab me. It’s like listening to a fast paced Rufio with some New Found Glory. After a song or two, Reed Michael Wolcott (vocals and guitar) said to the crowd, “[it’s] good to not be away from home at all…” and got a huge cheer. One thing I did like about WATU that was stellar was that they know how to make the crowd feel included. They had some good harmonizations, fairly good beats and a smooth trombone sound. In “One Million Motors” from their most recent album, Great Leaps Forward, there’s some swiftly played bass and guitar (Brandon Benson and Ricky Weber) and fun horn lines. They played with a different drummer and unfortunately I didn’t catch his name. They also played “Do Not Attempt To Adjust Your TV Set” which, although energetic sounded processed to me. It was basically about a half hour of standard Punk/ska beats with somewhat subdued energy compared to CBJ.
And then it was time for Have Nots. I’d been waiting to see them play again for months. Around 10PM (doors opened at 8PM) it was a packed audience and they made it worth the wait. They’re a Boston Punk rock/Ska band complied of John Cauzitk and Matt Pruitt on guitar and vocals, Jameson Hollis on bass and Steve Patton on drums. A few years back a friend of mine sent me their first album, Serf City USA. Seriously fresh, gritty, well-written music and lyrics that serve a purpose and aren’t fluff—think The Suicide Machines and the vocal speed of early The Flatliners. Solid bass lines with ska influenced guitar parts and a complimenting drum line. These guys delivered. Have Nots opened with “Brink” from their new album Proud, radiating energy through songs like “SBC,” “Used to Be,” and “Louisville Slugger.” Have Nots sang one cover that was well received, The Clash’s “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.” They ended their set with “One in Four”— speed with cleverly written lyrics like, “Johnny got f***ed by the GI Bill/Choking on that bitter pill/took what seemed the safest bet/and now he’s home drowning in debt.” They played close to an hour and honestly could have played longer.
Have Nots weren’t even headlining. After sixteen years together, Big D and the Kids Table (Boston, Massachusetts) are still easily a favorite in the Ska punk world. It wasn’t a surprise when there was suddenly no space in the crowd—it got that packed. Promoting their new album, For The Damned, The Dumb & The Delirious, there was constant dancing, skanking, and stage dives. It was a room filled with infectious energy and Big D is a band that dares you to have fun: walking beats (Nick Pantazi on guitar), a strong bass (Steve Foote), keen horns (Ryan O’Connor on tenor sax and Chris Lucca on trumpet) and sweet drumming (Derek Davis). David McWane’s voice itself was entertaining: mischievous and taunting with an underlying smile. Towards the beginning of the set he said, “[This is] …the first proper show we’ve played since our record came out” and got a roar of approval. In their hour and a half set they played new songs like “Destination Gone Astray” and older material like “Bender.” McWane dedicated “Fly Away” to Royce Nunley from The Suicide Machines (he was working behind the bar), and personally thanked him “…for getting me out of my town and on the road.” Their encore consisted of, “Learning to Listen” (it has a chasing melody and guitar parts that demand a tornado of movement), “Steady Riot” (hooking lyrics like, “Music, a steady riot in my soul/Always in me”) and “L.A.X.” (the crowd sang along to lyrics like, “my friends are f***ing awesome”—emphasis on the “awesome”). At a Big D show, you know to expect a good time. And overall that’s what the night boiled down to—a good time.
We Are The Union
Big D and the Kids Table