The time had finally arrived for the rescheduled In Defense of Ska tour to hit Southern California as it graced the Garden Amp in Garden Grove. The tour takes its name from the popular book authored by Aaron Carnes, which was released last year. Carnes wrote the book as a love letter to a genre that he had been listening to since the early ‘90s, and had even played drums in during that time. It gives ska the kind of respect and spotlight that it deserves and that it has been sorely lacking in recent years.
The night kicked off with Noise Complaint and they were actually a lot heavier than I had anticipated. The Chino band released their latest single, “Suburban Warfare,” just two nights earlier on all media platforms. This was the first release since 2019’s “Ambivalence,” their last full-length album. For fans who enjoyed their set, you can catch them on November 5th at Programme Skate Shop in Fullerton.
The band Noise Complaint will be playing with at that Fullerton show was up next and it was none other than Half Past Two. The band opened their set with “Proximity” and immediately the horns sounded beautifully in the open amphitheater. They also played their cover of the Josie and the Pussycats song, “Three Small Words.”
One of the running jokes about ska bands is how many members they have, incorporating all of the horn players, and HPT is no exception featuring nine members.
As you can imagine, getting that many people in a recording studio was no easy feat, especially during COVID-restrictions and yet, the band has said their 2021 self-titled release was honestly their most collaborative effort to date. Their set breezed by and before I knew it, they were playing their final song of the evening, “Shine.”
Garden Grove, California
September 11, 2022
Next up was Omnigone, a band I was seeing live for the first time. People expecting the same sugary sweet playful ska they had just witnessed from Half Past Two got a severe shakeup as the band, almost a mix of hardcore and ska, set this venue upside down. Omnigone is actually the project formed by lead singer Adam Davis, who along with bassist Barry Krippene, were formerly in the seminal ska punk band Link 80.
What I love about Omnigone is that while their music is often aggressive and dark, the love and positivity of ska music is still deep within the band, particularly Davis. During “Rewrite History,” a young boy climbed onto the front lip of the stage and began skanking as the band played behind him. Omnigone played their cover of Catbite’s “Scratch Me Up” and were joined onstage by Half Past Two’s Tara Hahn on the chorus as We Are the Union’s Brent Friedman thundered along on drums.
Mustard Plug then took the stage next. Although this lineup was nearly exclusively California bands featuring that classic ‘90s ska punk sound, the fans more than welcomed the Michigan natives, which front-man, Dave Kirchgessner acknowledged. They opened with “Not Enough” and a few songs later played arguably their biggest hit, “You,” with lead vocals by guitarist Colin Clive. Next, I immediately recognized the opening bass notes Greg Witulski began playing as Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” which received a huge ovation and one of the biggest hits of the night.
At one point Kirchgessner announced that today was actually the 15th anniversary of their album “Black and White” and they played the hugely popular “On and On” from that record. For their next song, Kirchgessner said it was about a knife-wielding manic, which he hoped was not here tonight. Almost as if on cue, a guy in a yellow ski mask wielding a large plastic butcher knife took to the front of the stage to begin skanking. Mustard Plug finished up their fun, energetic set with fan favorite “Beer.”
As the night’s headliners, Buck-O-Nine took to the stage, lead singer Jon Pebsworth told the crowd, “It’s good to be here. Actually, it’s good to just be alive.” He was referring to the fact that in December 2021, he went into cardiac arrest and was hospitalized for surgery. The In Defense of Ska tour was originally scheduled for January 2022, but had to be postponed until September. Fortunately, he looked to be in great shape and spirits Sunday night; the best shape I’ve seen him in years.
Buck-O-Nine opened with “Who Are They?” and went right into “Nineteen.” They played their cover of the ‘80s reggae hit “Pass the Dutchie,” featuring lead vocals by trumpeter Tony Curry. They then launched into “Sound System,” by ska punk legends of the East Bay, Operation Ivy. The Irish folk-inspired “Irish Drinking Song” was next and then the one that started it all – “My Town,” an ode to their hometown of San Diego.
Finally, the band wrapped up the night with yet another cover, The Clash’s “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” with lead vocals by saxophonist Craig Yarnold.
It was an exciting night of ska and I’m sure everyone there was thankful Pebsworth was around to play. All of the bands did an excellent job and I look forward to catching them all again soon.