I have to admit, when I first heard that Streetlight Manifesto was playing in LA to promote their upcoming album, I was overcome with nostalgia. I flashed back to 2005, when I saw Streetlight pack the multipurpose room at the Livingston Campus Center at Rutgers University. The crowd of dorky suburban kids with cheesy Hawaiian shirts, checkered shoes, and bad sideburns couldn’t get enough of Tomas Kalnoky and his trumpet playing band and neither could I.
When I arrived at the Mayan Theatre Wednesday night, I saw those same Hawaiian shirts and checkered shoes, but there was a noticeable lack of bad sideburns, as most of the crowd weren’t old enough to grow proper facial hair. By the time my grandfatherly awe subsided, the first opening act, Lionize, was just taking the stage.
|First opening act, Lionize.|
My initial reaction to Lionize was lukewarm at best. They seemed like a your typical bunch of college kids who decided to start a band after getting stoned and listening to their parents’ 70s rock albums. Better yet, each band member represented a different stoner stereotype. The dorky suburban kid who discovered pot (as well as Ray Manzarek and Jon Lord) during his freshman year was on keyboards. The super sketchy guy who looks like he’d stab you over a dimebag (and also has a striking resemblance to Project Runway‘s Fabio Costa) was on bass. The hefty bearded white guy who really struggles with the munchies was on guitar and vocals. And the token black dude who has all white friends was on drums.
But, despite my initial knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on jerk) Lionize were actually pretty good. They mixed together a lot of different styles and sounds I wasn’t expecting to hear at a Streetlight Manifesto show. They blended together all of the sounds from their parents’ albums quite nicely. Led Zeppelin’s heaviness, Parliament Funkadelic’s funkiness, and even a little of Bob Marley’s reggae-ness were all present. And while Lionize was essentially a jam band, Nate Birdman’s strong vocal performance was nothing to scoff at.
The highlight of the set, was undoubtedly when they invited Jesse Wagner of the Aggrolites on stage for a rendition of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
|Lionize w/ special guest Jesse Wagner of the Aggrolites.|
As the first warm-up band, its likely the audience isn’t familiar with any of your songs, so it’s always a good call to include a cover in your set, and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” was a perfect choice. Lionize did their job well, and energized the crowd enough for the second warm-up act, Hostage Calm to take the stage.
|2nd opening act, Hostage Calm|
While Hostage Calm’s high energy was a stark contrast from the sleepy stoners that preceded them, to be completely honest, they didn’t really do it for me. Their New England white bread sound was reminiscent of Taking Back Sunday, Yellowcard and all the other bands I didn’t like in high school. If their channeling of suburban angst wasn’t obvious enough, singer Chris Martin saying things like “This is for anyone who’s ever been disillusioned and left behind” and “This is for anyone who grew up in a broken home” between songs didn’t really help to win me over.
But luckily for Hostage Calm, most of the crowd would strongly disagree with my assessment. The packed house of facial hair challenged teenagers absolutely loved Hostage Calm. Despite the fact I didn’t really care for their music, Hostage Calm put on a hell of a show. Singer Chris Martin ran around stage like a mad man, proudly declaring the band’s mission to “Play fucking fast!” If this wasn’t enough to get the people going, his invitation for the crowd to start crowd surfing sure was.
|Hostage Calm singer, Chris Martin|
For me, this was when the real entertainment began. I’m not sure who enjoys crowd surfing more, the crowd surfers who revel in being the center of attention, the awkward nerds who consider touching a crowd surfer’s butt as “first base,” or the meat head security guards who get to take out their aggression by violently pulling the crowd surfers to safety. By the time Hostage Calm’s set was over, the crowd was more than riled up and ready for Streetlight Manifesto to take the stage.
Within seconds of taking the stage, Streetlight Manifesto showed the delighted crowd why they are considered the greatest third wave Ska band of all-time. They opened up with “Everything Went Numb,” the past tense title track from their debut album, “Everything Goes Numb.” The crowd sang along to every word, and lead singer Tomas Kalnoky mouthed along to every horn solo.
From there, Streetlight played “We Will Fall Together,” the opening track off “Somewhere in the Between,” before playing a song from their yet to be released, greatly anticipated new album, “The Hands That Thieve.” If this track, as well as the two other new songs they played, are any indication of the quality of their new album, Streetlight fans have much to look forward to.
Overall, Streetlight played a pretty balanced setlist. In addition to the three songs off their new album, they played seven songs from “Everything Goes Numb,” five songs from “Somewhere in the Between,” and the title track from “Keasbey Nights.”
To say the crowd at the Mayan was energized would be a severe understatement. No longer content with just wearing checkered sneakers to ska shows, fans have decided to start throwing their shoes at the band during the show. Apparently throwing your shoes is a gesture of endearment, which might explain why George Bush served two terms. But this battle wasn’t one sided, and it wasn’t limited to shoes. While the crowd threw anything they could get their hands on, from shirts to hats to bottles, Tomas launched water bottles and guitar picks back at them.
Amidst the craziness, the band played a phenomenal show. The only complaint would be the obvious lack of material from “Keasbey Nights”, but understandably so. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the albums history, let me fill you in.
“Keasbey Nights” was the debut release of Catch 22, Tomas Kalnoky’s original band. He left Catch 22 after only recording that one album and he formed Streetlight Manifesto. Years later, the remaining members of Catch 22 (still touring and recording under the Catch 22 name despite the absence of Tomas) planned a re-release/anniversary issue of “Keasbey Nights.” Tomas Kalnoky, who wrote, sang, and was the main creative force behind the album didn’t want them to cash in on his work, so he decided to re-record the entire “Keasbey Nights” album with Streetlight Manifesto.
In the past, Streetlight has played a lot of material from the album. But in the years since, Streetlight has created a body of work all it’s own. So while it would have been nice to hear “1234, 1234” or “Kristina Doesn’t Know I Exist” I understand why they’ve chosen to focus more on playing Streetlight Manifesto originals. If you go see Streetlight expecting to hear Tomas sing all your favorite songs from “Keasbey Nights” you will be unfortunately disappointed. Maybe in the future they will play more of what many consider to be the greatest third wave ska album ever, but for now, the current Streetlight Manifesto show is more than satisfactory and definitely worth the price of admission.