Less Than Jake … more like Less Than Nothing. The band visited Philadelphia Feb.17 at the Trocadero Theatre and delivered a concert unlike any I have seen. The “eff it, we’re musicians” attitude of the band, the enthusiasm of the music and, most of all, the genuine passion of the crowd were unparalleled.
Indeed, this seems to be a common characteristic of ska, a genre of music first appearing in the late 1950s in Jamaica. But the history of ska is muchlessimportant thanitscharacterand presence within the music scene. On that note, it is more accurate to consider ska as its own subculture because it surpasses the typical reach of music to include a unique dance move (known as “skanking”), clothing style and general demeanor. This is not to say, however, that it appeals only to a limited audience base. On the contrary, it is an extremely flexible form ofmusic, combining elements from jazz, reggae, swing and punk (this genre being of the greatest influence).
While ska primarily reacheditspeak of popularityinJamaica and theUnited Kingdominthe early 1960s, it gained favorintheUnited Statesinthelate-1990s. And so appeared the Gainesville,Fla. natives: Chris Demakes (vocals and guitar), Roger Manganelli (bass and guitar), Vinnie Florello (drums), Buddy Schaub (trombone) and Peter “JR” Wasilewski (saxophone)in1992asLessThan Jake.
Releasingtheirfirst studio album, “Pezcore,” in1995, the band proceeded toproducesix subsequent records. Their latest, “GNV FLA,” was completedin2008.Theirlong and thorough trackrecordincludesa multitude of catchy, hum-to-yourself tunes, notably including “The Science of Selling YourselfShort,” “PlasticCupPolitics,” “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” and scores of covers of familiar TV show theme songs. Needless to say, thisgroupembodies the playful and clever musical approach characteristic of ska. The music in itself is enough for an impressive performance, but it does not stopthere. In reality it has only just begun.
That being said, I was introduced to what is considered a staple at all ska shows: the circle pit.Inthis, members of the audiencepush outward to form an open circleinthe middle of the crowd. Once they achieve this, the real fun begins whenpeoplerun along the edge of the circle — literally sprinting one afteranother. I could compare it to thehumanform of the eye of atornado.Inother cases,peopletake turns dancing, or rather, “skanking” — to put it simply, a lot of flailing limbs — through the circle, until the crowd can no longer be suppressed and the ring collapsesinon itself.
Honestly, this piece was thrilling to writebecauseit allowed me to relive one of themost unique, unconventional shows. With Philly being the musical hubthatit is, thiswillnot be thelastska concertinthecity, however.Infact, Philly houses a richundergroundska scenethatrequires a little more digging. And forthat, I am extremely grateful.LessThan Jake upheld the adage “Once you go ____, you never go back.” Fill the blankinwith “ska,” and the saying has never been so true.