Aggrolites Definitely Didn’t Let Us Down…

In a bit of a followup to my recent post on great ska performers like the Scofflaws and Skapara, I finally had a chance to see the Aggrolites live a week and a half ago. I’m a child of the NYC ska scene, so my exposure to California ska was a bit delayed — and often came through a New York City lens — I discovered CA bands like Hepcat and Lets Go Bowling only because they put out albums on Moon Ska, the classic NYC ska label of the 90s. There was Jump with Joey, but until Ryko reissued their albums in the US, JwJ always seemed like a mythical creature. I’d hear about them and their weekly live shows at the King King club — but hadn’t heard a damn thing from them as all their albums were only available in Japan.

But there were definitely hints of excitement coming out of California. Beyond Hepcat, I’d hear bits and pieces of Southern California bands like See Spot and Los Hooligans. And then there were the jokey “east coast/west coast” battles between King Django and Alex Dessert, but it only made me more interested in that SoCal sound. I remember a friend telling me that I needed to check out a band called the Rhythm Doctors, but never heard anything by them until I spotted their CD at Amoeba in San Francisco in the $2 remainders bin as I was waiting to check out. I grabbed the CD, took it home and couldn’t get it out of my CD player for ages.

By then, the band was no longer around, but I started hearing about the Aggrolites — and after picking up their first album, realized that it basically was the same band as the Rhythm Doctors, but with amazing vocals (the Rhythm Doctors were instrumental reggae). The first album was fantastic, for a while I had a playlist that just consisted of the Aggrolites, the Slackers and Go Jimmy Go (Hawaii ska!). But… still… while I liked them, they didn’t move into that top tier of ska bands reserved for only the select few.

Then, a few years back I was visiting New York again, and my buddy Yuval asked if I’d heard the latest Aggrolites album (their second). We were driving somewhere and he put it on in his car, and immediately the band shot up to that top tier (though, still just short of the Slackers). The first song he played for me, Love Isn’t Love, became the song I used for the first dance at my wedding, and I was constantly listening to the Aggrolites.

And yet, for some reason, I never got to see them in concert. This is mostly my own fault. They’re from LA, but bounce up to San Francisco often enough. But, for some reason, the timing just never worked until a couple weeks ago, when my wife and I, along with Dennis got to go check them out at the Red Devil Lounge. We showed up early (way, way, way too early) and the place was pretty empty, but it allowed us to hang out up front. The opening band (The Impalers) was excellent as well, but the main show was what we came to see, and the Aggrolites delivered. They put on a fantastic live show, playing a mix of songs from all their albums, an occasional cover and a couple of new songs. But what was great, was seeing how the lead singer, Jesse, got the crowd involved (sometimes to dangerous ends… we ended up near some tables on the side, where we had put our drink glasses down, and towards the end an overzealous dancer flew into the table and his hand smashed right through a pint glass).

Anyway, here are a few Aggrolites videos for those unfamiliar with either their recorded or live performances. First up is the video of their single off their most recent album, a song called Free Time:

However, what’s cool is to see them live. For some reason, the best live videos of the band are all of them doing cover songs (the band does mostly originals). Their final song of the night when we saw them was a cover of the Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down, reggae-fied, of course. There’s a great video of the band performing this live (not at the show we were at), which highlights Jesse’s stage presence and ability to get the audience involved as well as demonstrates Roger Rivas’ mastery of the reggae keyboard sound… It’s probably blasphemy to Beatles fans… but I like the Aggrolites version better. :)

Anyway… trying to do some more music posts, and figured I’d talk up the Aggrolites show. Up next? I’m heading up to see the Slackers play a New Years Eve show in San Francisco in less than 24 hours. That’s going to be a blast…

Update: Well, look at that… just a couple hours after posting this, while looking for something entirely different, I came across an entire Aggrolites concert that can be streamed live online and embedded, so let’s test this out. The concert is from 2006 in Amsterdam, so it doesn’t have many of the more recent songs, but still looks pretty cool:

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