by Savie Maneen
THE ENGINE ROOM -- 2/25/2005: Renowned surrealist Salvador Dali once said, "Have no fear of perfection -- you'll never reach it." Dali obviously never saw Streetlight Manifesto live. Through the pursuit of art, man has made his most valiant attempts at perfection -- Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, Bogey in Casablanca, the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper -- but few artists of late have come close to perfection in their respective field. Enter Streetlight Manifesto.
A ska band rising from the ashes of Victory ska pioneers Catch 22, Streetlight brings a unique type of ska to the scene. Their first full length, 2003's Everything Goes Numb, blends ska, punk, jazz, rock, folk, and everything in between to create a novel listening experience.
I had the opportunity to see Streetlight perform at the Engine Room as part of the "Ska is Dead Tour 2005," alongside fellow ska acts the Voodoo Glow Skulls and MU330.
I missed the first band's set -- a local act by the name of the Blue Lights -- because the line to get in was literally around the block. Needless to say, ska is alive and kicking in Houston.
The second group on the bill was a Chicago punk act called Secret Agent Bill. A pleasant mélange of punk, reggae, ska, and even a little metal, their set was very enjoyable. The band themselves are also really cool guys (after the show they hung around and talked with kids and gave away a lot of free merchandise). Their "ode" to Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame, "Only Trent Knows How You Feel," was the highlight of a set that also included a cover of Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law."
The next band to perform was Kansas City, Missouri's MU330. A classic ska band, their set was replete with the traditional horns-a-blazing, crazy antics (such as a "Trivial Pursuit Break"), a lounge-esque singalong, and skanking, the preferred method of dance for rudies and rude girls everywhere. Their set culminated in the dance-friendly "KKK Highway," a number about the KKK's adoption of a stretch of highway in Missouri back in the '90s.
Finally, Streetlight Manifesto took the stage. As one of two headlining acts on the your, they and the Voodoo Glow Skulls apparently switched closing duties each night, and that night, the Glow Skulls happened to come on last. Now, I must preface this review with the following: words alone cannot fully convey the experience of a Streetlight show. There is just something dynamic about a good show; one is able to let go and become completely engrossed in the music. Streetlight Manifesto allows just this.
From the moment the band took the stage, the audience let out a roar that didn't stop for the entire set, as literally every voice in the room sang along to every song. Jamming their way through ten songs, one was hard-pressed not to find a body in motion. This show was the kind of show that kids dream of. Not only were all voices one in song, no one was slamming in the pit, no one was starting fights, and the band never let up. Streetlight played with such intensity that one might think they were never going to play again -- that's what separates them from other live acts. Each song sounded like the band wanted to play it, not like they had to because they were on tour.
The high point of the Streetlight set was undoubtedly their performance of "Point/Counterpoint." Not only was the song a perfect singalong, but in the middle of the song, the horns broke out into the Catch 22 song "Keasbey Nights," and total chaos ensued. (Side note: Streetlight singer/songwriter/guitarist Tomas Kalnoky was the former singer/songwriter/guitarist for Catch 22. The song "Keasbey Nights" is the title track from the '98 Catch release Keasbey Nights.) To put this in perspective, hearing the original singer and writer of "Keasbey Nights" play this song live would be like going to a Wings show and all the sudden John Lennon came out and the band played "Let It Be" -- it's about as close as one can get to the original.
Finally, the Voodoo Glow Skulls came on. They played a blistering set, with their high-octane mix of ska, street punk, and rock knocking kids around in the pit. Complete with songs in Spanish, lucha libre masks, and a ska cover of "Charlie Brown," the Glow Skulls never let up.
The show was phenomenal from top to bottom. Every band, every fan, every song -- all came together for a truly unforgettable experience. I highly encourage not just ska/punk enthusiasts but also any music connoisseur to check out all the bands from the tour, and give Streetlight Manifesto a listen in particular. The night could only be summed up in one way, with a lyric from Streetlight's own "We Are the Few:"
"This has been the best night of my life."
Streetlight Manifesto -- http://www.streetlightmanifesto.com/;
Voodoo Glow Skulls -- http://www.voodooglowskulls.com/;
MU330 -- http://www.mu330.com/;
Secret Agent Bill -- http://www.secretagentbill.com/; Victory Records -- http://www.victoryrecords.com/; Catch 22 -- http://www.njcatch22.com/