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Politics Aside, It Was a Party

Pop music review: Ska Against Racism was the theme, but few of the 37 bands even paid lip service to the issue.

April 07, 1998|JENNIFER VINEYARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTIAGO CANYON — If the ska bands touring under the moniker Ska Against Racism had united for a different cause--say, Ska Against Sexism--the 3,000-plus crowd at Oak Canyon Ranch on Sunday would probably have been none the wiser.

For all the advance talk and backstage banter about racism's prevalence in society, most of the bands ignored the opportunity to address the issue onstage, where it counted most.

Most of the 37 ska and ska-rooted bands opted for a positive party atmosphere: "Jump, jump" was the battle cry, not "stop the hate," and the only threat in the air was of rain.

Spearheaded by former Skankin' Pickle front man Mike Park, the Ska Against Racism tour has an admirable cause: to raise awareness and an undetermined amount of money for such organizations as the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance, Artists for a Hate-Free America and Anti-Racist Action.

Yet the two booths representing those causes (even the less political Lollapalooza has more literature available) were outnumbered by beverage and food vendors, and the Planned Parenthood booth got more mention onstage (via the Skeletones).

A few bands--Channel 6, Jeffries Fan Club--sang about racial community, and Park introduced a tune or two by their Korean names in his Pickle-recalling set.

Still, there was no overwhelming indication, other than the bands' diverse racial composition, that this daylong concert was anything more than a kickoff to the festival season. The chance to revive ska's 2-Tone political slant was lost, and the carefree teens in attendance didn't even notice.

Would rabble-rousing have made a difference? Would any dialogue give the feel-good banality substance, or convince those who think little of most modern ska that the genre isn't tapped out? Probably not.

Chicago's Blue Meanies emerged as the great hope of ska's third wave--not for their invective, but for their ominous, time-signature-hopping marriage of ska and jazz. Without a word, the Blue Meanies brought the much-needed edge back.

Maybe uplifting ska can't always provide the urgency to fuel change or raise consciousness via its herky-jerky rhythms, but at least bands such as the Blue Meanies can provide a soundtrack to the war they collectively wish to wage.

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