Anyone familiar with the Brooklyn DIY punk scene of the past 10-20 years is well aware of the name Jeff Rosenstock. From his early teen years on Long Island with Arrogant Sons Of Bitches to his seminal, yet underappreciated (at the time) Bomb The Music Industry!, to his current rise to fame as a solo artist, he has defined what it means to be DIY. (OK, maybe “rise to fame” is a little over zealous. Most people you meet in the street have never heard of him, but in this little neck of the world known as DIY Punk, he sure as hell is most famous.)
So this past weekend Rosenstock returned home for three nights at Warsaw. A homecoming on multiple levels after moving to California in January 2020; these were his first shows back in Brooklyn since the move. And what better place to do it than in his old Greenpoint neighborhood Polish music hall, Warsaw. As he said from the stage on Friday night, this venue means a lot to him both on a professional level, as he’s graced its stage many times over the years and on a personal level as well since he and his partner Christine were married there a few years ago.
Opening night of the three night run was Friday and it promised to be a special evening since it was billed as one of a handful of Ska Dream shows which he was doing on this No Dream tour. For the benefit of those who might not be familiar with Rosenstock and his life over the last two years, he moved to California in January 2020 and then released his 5th solo studio album, No Dream in May 2020. Plans were to tour the world on the back of this album but alas, we all know by now how touring in late 2020, early 2021 went. So with touring off the table and lockdowns in place, what does one do during a global pandemic? They call all their friends and reinvent that very album, doing it as a ska album. Thus in April 2021, the world was graced with Ska Dream. And to these ears, as good as No Dream is (it was a top five album in 2020 for me), Ska Dream is even better. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve been a huge ska fan ever since the first time I saw the movie The Harder They Come at the midnight showing at The 8th Street Playhouse. Then The Specials and English Beat and the other 2 Tone bands took over in ‘79 and there was no looking back).
Jeff Rosenstock at Warsaw
The tour itself had Slaughter Beach, Dog and Oceanator as support bands and Friday’s show had an additional act added to the bill in the name of JER. And to once again bring the uninitiated up to speed, ska is enjoying a revival the last year or so and one of the people (along with Mike Park of Asian Man Records and Mike Sosinski of Bad Time Records) responsible for this resurgence is Jeremy Hunter, trombonist in ska band We Are The Union, who created a YouTube channel called Ska Tune Network where they feature ska cover versions of all kinds of popular songs. Effectively JER, the band, is a present day ska rotating supergroup consisting of members of We Are The Union, Kill Lincoln, and Catbite to name a few. Regrettably, entry into Warsaw on Friday was not a smooth process. I arrived at Warsaw at about 7:45 (my bad for cutting things close) to find the line for entrance out the front, down Driggs Ave., around the corner to Eckford St, and then stretching all the way to Engert Ave., something which I’d never seen before in my countless shows I’ve been to there. As such I missed all but the last song of JER’s set.
Second on the bill was a favorite band of mine, Oceanator. I’d gotten to see Elise Okusami of Oceanator back in August do a solo set at Trans-Pecos and was thrilled that her set had grown in leaps and bounds from when I’d last seen her play (opening for Rosenstock at Trans-Pecos in December of 2019). Anyway, Okusami and her band came out on stage at Warsaw and immediately killed it. Jumping onto the ska bandwagon of the night they opened up their set with a ska version of “Hide Away” from 2020’s Things I Never Said. Also in the ska vein was the band’s latest single which was released last week, a collaboration with JER called “Too Late.” All told, they played a great set to which I commented afterwards how Oceanator, be it a solo set by Elise or a full band gig, just gets better and better every time I see them.
I will admit that Philadelphia’s Slaughter Beach, Dog isn’t a band that I was at all that familiar with. I know that lead singer Jake Ewald formed the band after his old punk/pop band, Modern Baseball called it quits. While their recorded output has never quite resonated with me, I must say that their live set was quite enjoyable. Their live sound had a bit of a mellower alt-country feel to it which reminded me of bands like Shakey Graves or Houndmouth.
Rosenstock took the stage at roughly 10:30 and without batting an eye immediately jumped right into “No Time To Skank,” (in addition to reworking the songs from No Dream, each song is re-titled with a ska themed title), followed by “Airwalks” and “SKrAm” (which he brought out Elise Okusami to sing harmony on). The set pretty much was following the song order of Ska Dream (more or less) until the 9th song of the evening when the band kicked off “ACAB” from 2020 Dump which he recorded remotely with help from Jeremy Hunter. Speaking of Hunter, in addition to regular band members John DeDomenici, Mike Huguenor, Dan Potthast, and Kevin Higuchi, the band also had a horn section consisting of Hunter on trombone, and two of Rosenstock’s former band mates from ASOB, Dave Renz and Chris Valentino on trombone and sax.
As anyone who is familiar with a “Death” Rosenstock show is well aware that they are frenetic and bordering on just plain crazy. However, Friday’s show took things to a whole other level. First of all, let me just say that Jeremy Hunter is a bundle of energy that can’t be slowed down. They were jumping and skanking all over the stage, 100% of the time, and oh by the way all the while playing a sweet ‘bone. Rosenstock, for his part, was equally manic. I think his decision to not play too much guitar and to focus on the vocals for the evening had a lot to do with it. Not that the guitar is usually very constraining for him, but without it he was freed to roam and do whatever he wanted and for the most part what he wanted was to go completely ballistic. I mean Rosenstock is normally a non stop whirling dervish but whether he was feeding off of Hunter’s energy or he was just completely possessed by a higher being, he (and the band) were at a place I’d never seen them approach before.
The set continued with the rest of Ska Dream and the addition of the slower reggae song, “Collapse!” which is another tune from the 2020 Dump collection as well as “The Creek Is Everywhere,” from the Craig of The Creek animated TV program of which Rosenstock is the musical composer. The crowd throughout this onslaught of musical mayhem was pretty much a wall to wall mosh pit from start to finish. The fact that the crowd was SOOOO into it makes what happened for the encore even more spectacular. After the last song of the regular set, “Ohio Porkpie,” the crowd was clearly whipped into a skanking frenzy but during the encore break you could just tell that the room was exhausted and somewhat drained. That’s what I thought at least. The band returned and the second they played the first notes of ASOB’s anthem “So Let’s Go Nowhere” from 2006’s Three Cheers for Disappointment, the crowd erupted into one large skanking amoeba with a life of its own, flowing in every which direction.
It was a fitting end to what was clearly a very special night. As the sweat soaked crowd spilled out onto Driggs Ave, I pondered two thoughts. The first was, “When is the SKA Dreams show hitting Tipitina’s in New Orleans and how can I get there for it”? The second was “how was the show the following evening possibly going to compete with this one?”
Which brings me to Saturday night. Somewhat fearful of the debacle of getting into Warsaw on Friday night, I hoped to get to the venue much earlier than the night before I but got there only slightly earlier than the previous evening. Fortunately, the hiccups of entry which security dealt with on Friday had been cleared up by the second evening and entry went much smoother.
Jeff Rosenstock at Warsaw
Oceanator was the opener on Saturday being as JER was only on Friday’s ska lineup and they once again played a stellar set, albeit one which was more traditional in style to what they usually play (i.e. sans any ska flavored arrangements). While Saturday might have lacked some of the energetic pace of the previous evening, it certainly didn’t lack in any spot on musicianship as Elise Okusami and the band opened things up a bit with a noticeable extension of solos throughout the set.
Slaughter Beach, Dog were next up and their set on Saturday I felt was even stronger than their Friday set was. I think Friday’s ska themed show wasn’t the best fit for them and their set indicated this. But on Saturday they seemed looser and more relaxed, ready to just go with the flow. Going with the flow is much more in line with what they do. Ewald’s vocal style which is almost a talking blues thing sounds like a flowing of words to the backdrop of the bands mellifluous rhythms. I don’t know the name of the song but about midway through their set they invited Okusami to help out with a little bit of tambourine work. Again, as I said earlier, while I couldn’t consider myself a SBD fan coming into the weekend, they definitely won me over with the two sets I got to experience.
Which brings us to what everyone was waiting for, another Jeff Rosenstock set. The room, although sold out, was noticeably less crowded than it had been the previous night but that didn’t diminish the excitement in the air. Saturday’s show opened up with the interesting choice of “Illegal Fireworks and Hiding Bottles In The Sand,” a slow dirgelike tune from the 2020 Dump collection. This opener had me scratching my head even further as to what kind of set lay in store for us but my curiosity was soon assuaged when Rosenstock jumped into the opening notes of the opening track off of No Dream, “No Time.” And it was then that it dawned on me that we’d never heard most of No Dream live before and this was going to be a kind of coming out party for the album. In a lot of respects it has become overlooked by the (for lack of a better word) novelty, not to mention complete rad-ness of Ska Dream. After a blistering “Nikes (Alt),” Rosenstock brought out Laura Stevenson to help him out with the vocals on “Scram!” I am a huge fan of Stevenson’s and make no attempt to hide it (see pics from her show last month in Brooklyn) so it was fantastic to see that she’d been able to make it here to help out. She would be on and off the stage throughout the evening to the utter delight of virtually everyone in the building. Watching her calmly and at times almost awkwardly stand in front of her mike while DeDomenici and Rosenstock are prancing around the stage like crazies was such a fun and pleasant dichotomy; a great contrast to get to watch.
The rest of the evening brought a perfect mix of old (“Nausea,” “9/10,” and “Festival Song” to name a few) with the No Dream material. They closed out the regular set once again with a raucous, albeit straight version of “Ohio Turnpike.” Rosenstock and Stevenson kicked the encore off much like the night started, with the ballad off of 2020 Dump, “Caring.” But this was merely the calm before the storm as things closed out with a furious flurry of “U.S.A.” from Post-, followed by Worry’s “We Begged 2 Explode,” before closing out another glorious night of moshing and crowd surfing with “No Time For Skanking,” which turned out to be the only real duplicate song between the two nights.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Jeff’s fantastic wife Christine who single handedly worked the merch table all weekend (amongst many other duties I am sure). The line to that merch table seemed never to get shorter but Christine kept it moving, always as pleasant and as friendly as humanly possible. Thanks Christine (and Jeff too).
All in all spending my Friday and Saturday nights with a couple of thousand sweaty adrenaline fueled strangers while dancing and screaming like fools turned out to be the perfect way to spend my Thanksgiving weekend.
Scroll down for pics from the shows (photos by Ray Rusinak)
SLAUGHTER BEACH, DOG