When I heard that Streetlight Manifesto was touring again, I was half-expecting them to be backed by Sycamore Smith and Dan P., as they’d been the last two times they played Vegas. This time around, however, they brought along Ogikubo Station and Jenny Owen Youngs as support. Their Vegas date also saw a larger and much fancier venue than it had in previous years: Brooklyn Bowl. I’d actually never been to Brooklyn Bowl, and was surprised that Streetlight was playing, as in my mind, the venue is reserved for bands more popular in the mainstream. Upon hearing I was covering a show at Brooklyn Bowl, my dad immediately got excited and announced that he was also going to go. He kept to his promise: a few weeks prior to the show, he bought VIP tickets. He also wrote “ska” on a piece of paper and put it up in his office so he wouldn’t seem like a poser (which is perhaps a bit counterintuitive). Not quite the usual ska/punk experience, but I’ll give it to him.
As soon as I saw Brooklyn Bowl’s setup, I was impressed. The stage and standing room area are nestled between bowling lanes on the lefthand side and a bar to the right. Call me dumb, but for the longest time I didn’t realize that Brooklyn Bowl had actual bowling lanes. If you’ve got a ridiculous amount of money to spend and/or love to bowl, you can play a few games while watching your favorite band play. To my surprise, I actually saw a couple members of local bands drunkenly playing during the show.
The VIP section commands the upstairs. My parents were up there, enjoying seating and servers. I, on the other hand, was down in front of the stage with the rest of the plebeians. For some reason I got a lane access wristband, but I decided to forego the bowling lanes in favor of being with my friends. It was definitely a good choice: we were able to be way up in the front, partially due to the fact that most concertgoers purposefully only show up for the headliner.
There is a special place in hell for those people, but thankfully there was still a decent amount of people when Ogikubo Station opened up. The show ended up starting at 8pm rather than 7:30, proving that even bigger, bougier venues are still guilty of running on Punk Time. One of my friends was getting pretty impatient with just standing around, but her boredom was quelled as soon as Ogikubo Station took the stage. Mike Park (Asian Man Records founder) and Maura Weaver (formerly of pop punk band Mixtapes) were accompanied by a projector, which first played a video of them introducing themselves before starting a slideshow of political photos and Asian people that played while the played songs.
Their setlist was mostly the same as it had been the night before at the Punks in Vegas 6 Year Bash at Evel Pie, consisting of songs from their EP S/T like “I’m Not a Racist” and “This World Breaks Your Heart and Makes You Gray,” along with a few other Mike Park hits like “Asian Prodigy” and “I’m in Love With a Girl Named Spike.” During the set, Mike also showed the crowd his response to one of Catch 22’s albums (rejecting them) and played a little song apologizing to Tomas Kalnoky. One of my favorite things about DIY and ska/punk is how interconnected the scenes are, and that was a prime example.
All I knew about Jenny Owen Youngs prior to this show was that 1. She’s friends with Side One Dummy label musicians, and 2. She’s gay. Not a whole lot to go off of, especially considering neither of those two things necessitate being good or bad. But goddamn, was I blown away as soon as she started singing. I’ve seen and heard some phenomenal guitarists, drummers, songwriters, etc, but in the DIY scene especially, it’s rare to find someone with as genuinely good a singing voice as Jenny Owen Youngs. When she took the stage, my friend remarked that JOY was her “gay idol,” and I can see why- JOY has a wholesome, outdoorsy vibe, and has a weekly Buffy the Vampire-themed podcast with her wife, wherein every week they write a song about an episode. Another friend of mine remarked that her music “sounds like it would be on a movie soundtrack.” Personally, I think JOY’s folksy, indie rock-y songs would be ideal camping/road trip music. Songs like “Clean Break” and “Next Time Around” (which, BTW, was loosely inspired by The X-Files) really tug at your heartstrings, though. There’s something about JOY’s music that’s evocative of teenaged summers, lost chances, and broken hearts- but maybe that’s just me taking my friend’s soundtrack remark a bit too far. JOY interspersed her silly and sad songs with quirky commentary, such as how Vegas locals could survive a very dry apocalypse, and “came out” to the crowd, explaining that she has a wife and wishing everyone a happy Pride Month. “Gay idol,” indeed.
People crowded towards the front in anticipation of Streetlight Manifesto’s set. Truthfully, I was getting a little anxious, remembering how quickly and violently a pit erupted when I saw Streetlight play a year ago. After a bit of introductory fanfare, Streetlight launched into “We Will Fall Together,” the first track off of Somewhere in the Between, the 10th anniversary of which they were on tour for. As usual, lead vocalist Tomas Kalnoky was actually off to the side, allowing the horn players to take center stage. Despite having seen Streetlight multiple times in the past, I was just as infatuated with them this time around. I was in the second row, singing so much and so loudly that my voice was slightly fucked up the next day. It’s impossible not to sing along at a Streetlight show – all of the band members are clearly having the time of their lives. The horn players were dancing around and singing while not actively playing, and the smiles on everyone’s faces were infectious. Baritone saxophone player Mike Brown was especially energetic, spinning around in circles like a little kid on a sugar high.
Extra points to Brooklyn Bowl for actually having adequate air conditioning, a rarity at punk shows. I was constantly being smashed against other members of the crowd, who were all as gross and sweaty as I was, if not more so. Streetlight played through the rest of SITB, skipping the record’s namesake song, before playing songs from other records. I was pleased to hear quite a few songs off of my own favorite record, Everything Goes Numb, like “A Moment of Silence” and “Here’s to Life.”
Of course, everyone was singing along even more passionately to “A Better Place, A Better Time,” which is arguably in the top three favorite Streetlight songs of every fan. I appreciated the fact that there was an individual spotlight on the bassist, Pete Mccullough, during the intro of the song, before the band and the crowd once again broke out into a frenzy. As always, Streetlight played a long set, complete with an encore. Kalnoky joked that it would be “14 more songs!” which to be honest wouldn’t be completely surprising. Considering I had a 5:30am flight the next day, though, I was content with a two-song encore, consisting of “The Three of Us” and, finally, “Somewhere in the Between.”
Streetlight’s musicianship and stage presence is so consistently good, I can’t imagine walking away from one of their shows unimpressed. They’re genuinely some of the technically best musicians in ska (even if they claim to not be a ska band), and in three years of seeing them, I’ve yet to be disappointed. Ogikubo Station and JOY, while not exactly the best stylistic fits, were a pleasure to see, and I even bought a JOY vinyl (which I had her sign, of course). The only thing that would have made the show better would be if there weren’t so many belligerent jerks, but alas, that’s the nature of larger shows.
Photos by Margaret Schmitt | http://margaretschmitt.wix.com/margaretschmitt