You know a band is “buzz-worthy” when their first unannounced rehearsal has so many people lined up to see them that it turns into a impromptu show with charged admission. That did not happen in the age of flash mobs and social media, but in Kingston Jamaica back in 1964. The Skatalites had some of the best musicians of the island and helped define a genre that would last through the decades and influence many future artists. Ska’s appeal to music fans has endured through the ages and is renewed quite frequently by waves of bands such as the Specials, Madness, No Doubt, and the Mighty Mighty Bostones to name just a few. So needless to say, as a long time fan of Ska, I had to check out the legendary Skatalites when their tour brought them to St. Paul.
Opening for them was Madison’s Natty Nation. Lead by JAH Boogie the band has been around since 1995 and is a staple of the midwest reggae scene, yet somehow this was my first time seeing them live. Their hour long set was all original material and would be the perfect music for a day at the beach. On a chilly MN fall night, it worked quite well and as more people entered the show quickly captured their attention and spirits.
The 8 members of the Skatalites took a bit of time to get set up on the Turf Club’s small stage and started their set with a 10-1 countdown to the shout of “Freedom”. What followed was a musical history lesson of ska and The Skatalites’ collaborators. Songs were dedicated to members who had passed on, but what stood out to me was the generational spirit. Younger band members carried on the roots and essence of ska music. Original vocalist Doreen Shaffer joined the band after a few songs. Numbers ranged from classic covers, new material from their 2016 album “Platinum Ska” to the James Bond Theme. Of course “The Guns of Navarone” the title song to the film that was also covered by the Specials was part of the set. Another special moment was a solo bass set by “The General”.
The very diverse crowd at the Turf Club was dancing pretty much throughout the set, as befitting the music. All said, another show that left me in awe of the body of work of a great band.