Stubborn All-Stars play 'real' ska

December 18, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

When the Stubborn All-Stars teamed up with Skinnerbox and the Slackers for the New York Ska Mob tour, the idea wasn't just to put three like-minded bands out on the road. There was also a deeper purpose -- to save American ska fans from musical mediocrity.

"We're on a mission to bring real music to people," says Stubborn All-Stars frontman King Django. "Because we turn on MTV, we turn on the radio, and most of the stuff we hear or see around us seems like a joke. So we're on a mission to tell people, 'Listen to this.' "

In the All-Stars' case, "this" is traditional ska. Although a lot of bands these days take more of a hardcore, punked-up approach to the style, the All-Stars play the music as it was performed in Jamaica in the early '60s, emphasizing the music's horn-fattened sound and loping, jazzy groove.

The band itself is an off-shoot of Django's label, Stubborn Records. "It started out just to be a seven-inch, a four-song EP," he says of the band's origins. "But about a week after the record came out, we got approached to do an album. So we signed a four-album deal with Profile Records in New York. Since then, it's still kinda on-and-off, because everyone's involved in other projects. But we'll get together every so often, do an album, and tour."

Django adds that the focus at Stubborn Records is on "traditional ska, rock-steady and reggae. More of the roots kind of stuff." But he's hardly a purist. "There are a lot of lousy traditional ska bands out there," he says. "I'd rather see a really good ska-core or punk rock band than a lousy traditional ska band, any day."

But that's because Django is less interested in style than in musical quality. As he sees it, the most interesting bands at the moment are those emphasizing solid musicianship and a deep understanding of musical roots -- acts ranging from his Ska Mob colleagues to Hep Cat and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Although these bands don't always have a lot in common stylistically, they have a love for the music that goes beyond commercial concerns.

"It's what the musicians want to do," he says. "No one's in it for the money, because there really isn't much money being made at it."

There is an audience out there, however, and Django is forever surprised at how broad it is. "I mean, I've seen anything from 9-year-old kids to 50-year-old men with their wives," he says. "And we get a good response from all these groups. I like when I see older people dancing to our stuff, because then I know there's something to it."

When Django talks about dancing, he doesn't mean moshing. "Actually, there's not a lot of moshing at Stubborn All-Stars shows, because the kind of music we play is pretty mellow," he says. "So the crowd tends to be mellow, and the atmosphere is really mellow. We even see cheek-to-cheek dancing in the show when we play the slow jams."

In other words, the Stubborn All-Stars is slowly winning people over. "A lot of the places that we go, the sound people and everyone are really surprised," he says. "It's like, 'Wow, we didn't know what we were getting here, but it's really cool to see a real band for a change.'

"I think it's better to be a little different at this point in time," he adds. "People are always interested in you if it's not what everyone else is doing."

Stubborn All-Stars

When: 10 tonight

Where: 8x10 Club

Tickets: $8

L Call: 410-481-7328 for tickets, 410-625-2000 for information

Sundial: To hear excerpts from the Stubborn All-Stars new release, "Back with a New Batch," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6190. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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