It pretty hard to completely turn off “fanboy” when I interviewed two members of seminal Connecticut ska/rock band Spring Heeled Jack USA. You should know before the interview started, I had them sign my copy of Songs from Suburbia and gave them a copy of the article I’d written about them in 2006. We continued talking long after the interview. I asked them directly for songwriting and performance advice and they were real sports about the whole thing. (more…)
But it’s 2010, not 1998. Seeing the late 90s ska/rock act Spring Heeled Jack USA on the cover of the New Haven Advocate in high school was not such a big deal; they were from the area and were big. Seeing the video for “Jolene” on MTV2 was a very big deal; were they really that big?
SHJUSA broke up roughly 10 years ago but will be having two reunion shows this weekend at Toad’s Place in New Haven. Against my better judgement, I have tickets to both nights. The Advocate ran a really great article about the band and the shows this weekend. I got warm-fuzzies reading the article when it hits on a few things in particular. The writer and guitarist/singer Mike Pellegrino talk about the Tune Inn at length:
“That place was so sketchy, so cool,” says Pellegrino. “How many shows did we play there? 100? That’s not pushing it right? It was totally sketchy. I miss it. There was a burnt-up building across the street and parents would be like, ‘Where am I dropping my kid off?’”
The Tune Inn, formerly on Center Street in New Haven, was an all-ages club. It didn’t serve alcohol until near the end of its existence. It was a place for teens to go that wasn’t contrived (or chaperoned), to play, mingle and listen to music.
My mom definitely was concerned where she was dropping me off. The very first show I ever drove myself to was there. Pilfers stole my hearing permanently at the Tune Inn. My first high school pop/punk band played some of our first shows there. When high school senioritis kicked in, I was there at least once a week, it almost didn’t matter who was playing. I remember being extremely frustrated when they were muscled out of New Haven and made it out for the venues last show when Thumper (also mentioned in the article) reunited. I remember just how weird the place felt with half the sound equipment and furniture gone that last night.
The article goes on to talk about how SHJUSA fit into the third wave ska explosion, the subsequent fall, and several reunions. It’s a really nice intro for those aren’t familiar with the band or the context but a nice recap for anyone who was along for any of the ride.
I had all but forgotten that in 2006 I wrote an article on SHJUSA for the short lived Upbeat Ska Zine (picture below) run by some friends of mine during what I felt was a really great ska renaissance taking place in CT at that time.
As I mention in the article, I only saw them once in high school, somewhere between my sophomore and junior years. This was really the start. Tracks from “Songs From Suburbia” became staples of almost every party I went to. Were you ever at Tap Out House at midnight when I cranked “Mass Appeal Madness?” While I was filling in on bass for CT ska band Stealing From Peter, who was known for covering various SHJUSA songs live, we had one show where Mike Pellegrino (singer/guitarist mentioned above) jumped on stage to sing “Jolene” with us. It was pretty surreal. Here’s that video:
Most recently, for a birthday present, one of my good friends got me a signed poster from a benefit auction (a beautiful story in and of itself) that now sits above my bed. I’m pretty proud of it. I still consider them a major influence on my current pop/punk/ska project, Hey Stranger.
We’ve been gone for so long that it doesn’t really matter where we’re going to, there’s no looking back.
I know I should be strong, but my heart isn’t in it and I don’t know my limit, so all I can do is move on.
*** Update 5/11/09 ***
These shows were both amazing! The music was great, the openers were fun, the band had not lost an ounce of the energy they once had and I ran into everyone. I ran into old friends, members of every band I’d ever been in, an old roommate, heroes of mine in the audience, and the list goes on.
In addition to the New Haven Advocate, the New Haven Register ran a great article that was more the human interest angle, reflecting on the loss of a band member and how that affected the band’s decisions. Hat tip to Duff Guide To Ska for linking it and running a really great preview for the shows as well.