Concert Review: Skaters and So So Glos at Bowery Ballroom: February 24, 2014
Do you remember the movie Weird Science? A classic ’80s era John Hughes film, Weird Science is about a pair of nerdy high school boys who use their computer to magically create a beautiful woman (Kelly LeBrock) who is completely devoted to them. Despite her stunning beauty and other charms they eventually learn that they cannot fall in love with her and instead she guides them to an inner confidence which leads to them landing the actual (high school) girls of their dreams.
You’re asking, what does Weird Science have to do with the Skaters record release show last night at Bowery Ballroom? Maybe I just have ’80s movies on my mind with the passing yesterday of Harold Ramis, but all night long I could not shake the nagging feeling that the Skaters are the Kelly LeBrock of pop-punk music. (As an aside: Cool move by the Skaters to walk on stage to the theme from Ramis’ Ghostbusters.) They put on a great show, had the crowd dancing and moshing and even singing along to the yet-to-be released record (which actually comes out today) and were just entertaining from start to finish. Yet their essence evokes a feeling of a band conceived in a board room by marketing experts in an attempt to create the new Strokes. Everything is so perfect that it’s all just a little off.
It started with the venue and the opening bands. Bowery Ballroom is not a huge club, but for a band effectively making its debut this is a pretty big spot to fill as an opener. Where were the shows at Glasslands, Knitting Factory, Pianos and the like before the big time? Dum Dum Girls – much more of a known quantity – recently launched their third record at the smaller Mercury Lounge. Yet the Skaters performed at Bowery with two opening bands. One of those bands – the So So Glos – have been putting out records for 7 years, getting positive reviews and awards for their work over that time. In fact, it’s worth mentioning here that the So So Glos, a loud punk band, had an amazing set last night. The band brought maximum energy, and – like the Skaters later – had the crowd dancing and moshing and singing along. They did everything that could be asked of an opening band, creating a really strong buzz. They’re a band I’d be very happy to see live again, hopefully opening for many acts I see in the future.
Back to the main act. I’d been eagerly anticipating this show for a while as there has been a · lot · of · buzz about the Skaters on the radio and online. Their single “Deadbolt” has been streaming online and playing on AltNation since October. I was convinced that a band with this much hype – and regular comparisons to the Strokes – must be something special. What I didn’t realize, until last night, is that the Skaters were not an indie band. They had the muscle of Warner Bros. behind them, which is a testament to their sound but also gives them a massive leg up in separating themselves from the many NYC-area punk bands that start up every day. You could see it even in their merchandise – the generic Skaters logo, the album name Manhattan – you couldn’t come up with a more prototypical Strokes-ian band if you had Gary and Wyatt design one from their computers themselves.
As for the music – well, it is actually pretty good. That’s the thing about Kelly Lebrock – she may have been built in a lab, but she’s still a knockout. Feeding off of the crowd’s energy, the band went straight into some upbeat songs, getting a positive reaction to album closer “This Much I Care” and then hitting “Deadbolt” early on, song 3. The best song of the night came two songs later, a previously released single “I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How)”. Like the title suggests, the song is upbeat, a sing-and-dance-along explosion. The next couple of songs were a bit slower – the record is not pure punk at all, but rather an exploration of several different genres (“BandBreaker” is more reggae than anything else) – but through about half the set I was very pleased overall.
Stream or Download: “I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How)”
Skaters then had a surprise in store which made about 1/3 of the audience (myself included) lose themselves for the first time all night. They did a fantastic cover of the Smiths’ “This Charming Man“, not an easy song to pull off. Eventually they closed out the main set with two more surefire hits off the record – the next single “Miss Teen Massachusetts” and the anthem “To Be Young In NYC”. Following a short break, the band returned for an encore which included “BandBreaker” and closed with a completely unplanned (see the set list below) cover of Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings“. By this point I’m not ashamed to say that I was right there in the mosh pit, slamming up against the stage. The Skaters had won me over.
At some point in the night I overheard someone say, dismissing the band, “they’re not even from Manhattan!” It turns out that’s true. The band – whose twitter and instagram handles, as well as their youtube and facebook pages, are @skatersnyc – are made up of Michael Ian Cummings (from Boston), Noah Rubin (Los Angeles), Joshua Hubbard (London) and finally, Dan Burke (NY!). Warners is obviously promoting them as a New York City band, as you can see from the formal band bio put out by the label. Though commonly referred to as an indie band because of their style of music and image, Skaters actually recorded Manhattan in the world-famous Electric Lady Studios in NYC, saying in an interview, “It was a great recording experience. We learned a lot recording there. The intern staff is amazing. They are there 24/7 and will do almost anything you ask of them. We picked the studio because we liked that they had a room on the roof with roof access.” For the unfamiliar, Electric Lady is the studio founded by Jimi Hendrix, which bands dream of using after a string of successful records (Arcade Fire recoded Reflektor there.) After the show I asked lead singer Michael where the band was off to next. They are doing an extensive tour of London and then across the US, with a final stop back in NYC in June. Talk about waking up with a silver spoon in your mouth. The Skaters are in the major leagues and have been handed that opportunity on a silver platter.
Do they deserve it? Possibly. Time – and the music – will tell. Last night they were very good, though I wasn’t by any means blown away. I heard an “indie” punk rock band that I like, and I look forward to listening to the record over the next few weeks and months. The new Strokes though? I don’t think so.