The sign said “No moshing, no crowd surfing, and no stage diving,” which was a feeble attempt at preventing people from doing what comes naturally at a ska/punk show. By the time I arrived at the House of Blues to see Streetlight Manifesto on Tuesday night, the floor was already packed and the circle pit was in full swing. It was only the second opening band on stage, and the crowd was already getting into the music. For those who have never been to a ska show before, it is important to know that the style of dancing is very peculiar. Usually performed while rotating in a circle, dancing to ska (“skanking” as it is called by those in the scene) is part hop, part march, part waddle, and a lot of flail. It’s a bit like running in place, but sillier. There is no wrong way to do it, as long as you are bouncing and stepping to the rhythm of the music.
I can’t say anything about the first opening act, but the second band, Outernational, was pretty laughable. The lead singer looked like he was imitating Slash from Guns N’ Roses with his long curly hair, black hat and leather pants. The music was all over the place but mainly a combo of hard rock and ska. I imagine the creative process went something like, “Hey, lets get some syncopation and a trumpet to go with our repetitive lyrics and we can be a ska band!” They even had the gall to sing the chorus of one song in Spanish.
Finally the band cleared the stage. The audience was eagerly anticipating Streetlight Manifesto, and everyone crowded together to be as close to the stage as possible. There was no escaping the manly body odor filling the room. When the trombone player came onstage to check his mics in a Giants jersey and a Yankees cap the crowd started chanting, “Yankees suck!” Oh Boston, how I love you and your sports rivalries.
When Streetlight Manifesto took the stage, the crowd erupted into raucous applause. Singer and guitarist Tomas Kalnoky explained that he was sick and had lost his voice, so the “rock doctor” gave him some drugs to help him sing, and there was no telling what antics he might get up to. During the first song I came to the realization that I was far too small and delicate to deal with being in the pit, and I didn’t have the energy to pretend that I could handle it. I made an honorable retreat and watched the show from safety off to the side. Once I was out of the pit I found that I could actually see the band, and I had quite a good time watching the horn section bounce around and laugh with each other. The band’s playful stage antics were contrasted with the ferocity with which they sang into their microphones. The intensity of the band was matched by that of the crowd, who were completely ignoring the “No moshing or crowd surfing” rule and blissfully singing along. Unfortunately I had to leave early, and I did not get to see the end of their set. My personal experience of the show was disappointing, so I hope to catch Streetlight Manifesto again in a better place and a better time.