Ah, The Slackers, my life would be so empty without their music. Since I first discovered them seventeen years ago they have been firmly wedged in my top ten all-time favourite artists (out of literally thousands of artists) and they’ve shared that hallowed ground with the likes of Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Sublime, Rancid, NOFX, Dead Kennedys and The Clash etc. for the last two decades.
The Slackers (along with Sublime, The Mad Caddies and The Clash) are responsible for kickstarting my foray into ska and reggae, which would go on to become my second and third most specialist genres, after punk. The Slackers draw a lot of influence from a lot of great styles, from jazz to gospel, from funk to rocksteady, from even punk to mambo, and perhaps that is part of the key to their longevity. Despite largely wallowing around the swampwaters of ska and reggae they’ve never made two songs that sound the same, on the contrary, each slice of music they bring to an album is a unique and wonderful composition of its own.
Despite being a notoriously well-travelled band The Slackers haven’t been in Scotland for a decade or so. The last time was, I think, when I saw them at the now-extinct Barfly, April 2006. I have always said, to this very day, that that was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, and it remained true, even after the hundreds and hundreds of gigs that have come and went since (with me averaging a couple of bands a week).
I’ve created a great many fans of The Slackers over the last couple of decades of listening to them, usually just by putting on ‘Redlight’ or ‘Wasted Days’ or ‘Better Late Than Never’ and going ‘watch this’. So a collective of us headed along to Audio on the 16th to bask in the glory of The Slackers’ “Jamaican rock & roll” with fine support from Skarsoles and the awesome Esperanza.
I had hyped the gig up quite a bit and it still surpassed our highest expectations. I listen to the Slackers almost daily on record and it’s just such a joy to get to hear the soundtrack of my life played live while dancing, with fellow fans and the band themselves, who are great with their on-stage banter and crowd-participation raconteurial skills.
They started with The Question’s superb opening track ‘Manuel’, and did not rest on their laurels; delivering stomping, scintillating slice after slice of ska supremacy. Masters of their craft, they will take you through the vicissitudes of life with an audio journey. Slowing it down to the melancholy pace of ‘Everyday Is Sunday’ before hitting in hard with the boogaloo brilliance of ‘The Nurse’, which could have only been improved if it had included the ‘Sermon’ intro as it appears on the album.
‘Working Overtime’ was a precursor to kicking it into overdrive, as the second they hit the opening chords for their classic ‘Watch This’ (the song that originally got me into them) the electricity in the building crackled, as the energy of a room full of people combined in a long fine flash! The eerie ska of Lord Of The Rings-influenced ‘Sauron’ took us rocksteadily through to the lackadaisical lament of
’86 The Mayo’ and into an absolutely fucking stonking rendition of ‘My Bed Is A Boat’! An unexpected highlight of the evening from this relatively new track.
Some of the Slackers nipped off for a water/beer/sandwich/smoke/pipe/line or whatever it is they’re into, while Vic commanded the stage for some of his solo acoustic stuff. I got to see Vic’s phenomenal and outstanding solo performance at Boomtown 2014 for my 30th birthday, my review of that has been lost when NHC switched from a blog to a website last year, but you can find a re-issue of it here on my personal blog https://ctherrongonzodivision.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/boomtown-2014-review/
The Slackers returned, and launched back in with the timeless, fantastic and fan-favourite opening title-track from their exceptional album Wasted Days, and my heart nearly burst with delight, palpitating to the rhythm of the horn section, Glen and Dave (more about them later).
As if it couldn’t get any better ‘Wasted Days’ was followed by another of their ‘hits’, ‘Sarah’ a wonderfully quixotic piece of ska-jazz, and then by an explosive rendering of The Misfits’ ‘Attitude’, which really galvanised the crowd, I noticed Jess E. Ska from Esperanza skanking her head off to the right of me.
Two more songs from the self-titled album ‘Chewing on a Face’ and ‘I Want to Be Your Gurl’ was followed by an open invitation to request a song, whereupon I shouted something obscure that made Vic say, in his soft, New York drawl, ‘Hey this guy in the Slackers tshirt from like, the nineties, really knows his stuff’. The request came down to a toss-up between ‘Propaganda’ and ‘Fried Chicken Song’, both great songs, the latter would have been better for a live gig, but they went with one of their more political tunes and gave a blissful performance of the visceral ‘Propaganda’ from Peculiar, so it worked out well in the end.
They could have ended there and we would have been satisfied, but I’m glad they didn’t, as we still had a magnificent multitude of mellifluous melodies to go, in the form of; the soulful ‘So This is The Night’, everybody’s upbeat favourite ‘Have the Time’, the bitter boogaloo of ‘Keep Him Away’, another open request that resulted in a splendid and rousing execution of… Was it ‘Feed My Girl’? My memory becomes a little cider-fogged at this point, before closing with ‘Please Decide’. Which seemed like a strange choice of ending to me at first, before I remembered that it eventually kicks into a frenzied fever of fervent New Orleans-style funk/gospel at the end, which was the perfect way to depart a stage.
Usually at a gig I’m in the capacity of music journalist, and even if I’m doing something like interviewing Lars Frederiksen I still have to keep the fanboy in me contained. With the Slackers though, I was there as a fan to enjoy the music, so I went full-on fanboy and accosted Vic to sign the poster and colouring book I had bought from their merch stall. Vic is a great guy; cool, stylish, humble, gregarious and easy-going, so when I asked him if I could get Dave Hillyard’s autograph on my poster too, (being a fan of the prog-reggae of the Rocksteady Seven), he was happy to take me on board the tour bus with Ailsa and Kayleigh to acquire it.
I found myself sitting with the girls between the legendary Glen Pine and the prolific talent of Dave Hillyard, while Vic hovered about and ate fresh fruit and Jay Nugent lounged to the side, and we talked about… Well I’m not sure really because I was a bit drunk at this point and heady from the live show and the company in which I sat, guys whose music I had spent much of my life surrounding myself with. I vaguely remember talking about American gun laws, and Dave saying something about it was nice to see a couple dancing in the front row, and there was probably a lot of gushing from me involved too. If that wasn’t enough after smoking a couple of pipes with the moustachioed maestro
of melody Marcus Geard (bass), some of The Slackers (Vic and Jay) agreed to come to the pub with us, and we all went to Stereo and had a quick couple of pints with my musical heroes and a gang of us to cap off a perfect evening.
The Slackers have given me many great moments in my life, from that night in Audio on the 16th there, to the last time they played, when I was another person in another life at twenty-two years old, to Vic’s show on my 30th birthday at Boomtown, to many a long, lonely night living vicariously in their company through albums like ‘Wasted Days’, ‘Redlight’, ‘Peculiar’, ‘The Question’, ‘Better Late Than Never’, ‘Close My Eyes’ and all the others in between.
If you don’t know The Slackers, start with the above-mentioned albums and make your way from there. They have a mass appeal in their music that is largely unnoticed by the mainstream, perhaps thankfully. They are one of the greatest live shows a gormandiser of good music can experience. And they will be in my top ten bands until the day they ‘fire your musket over my casket’. No album collection is complete without the smooth reggae/ska/boogaloo/jazz/prog/rocksteady/psychedelia of the Slackers, so you know what to do…
The Slackers’ album ‘Redlight’ is reviewed in my ‘Twenty Albums That Changed My Life’ article originally published January 2014 in AmpedUp Scotland but re-issued on my own blog here https://ctherrongonzodivision.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/twenty-albums-that-changed-my-life/
Thank you, Slackers, for all the great times, don’t leave it too long to return now, until then…
Seeya’ in the pit
(PS. Stay tuned for more from The Slackers and me, shhhhhhh)