Fear, and the Toasters

Friday, January 30

Fear's musical cocktail of anger, beer and combustible live shows etched the band's name in punk rock -- if not musical -- history. A product of the late-'70s Los Angeles scene, the band was so focused on performing that, even though it formed in 1977, its members didn't bother to record an album until five years later.

Lee Ving's intelligent, at times immature sarcasm was tempered by the band's solid musicianship, and their debut album, The Record, stands up as a punk rock classic. Fear also benefited from inclusion in the influential documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. On a more trivial note, the Fear song "Let's Have a War" landed on the soundtrack to the Emilio Estevez flick Repo Man along with other L.A. punk tunes from Black Flag and the Circle Jerks.

Fear had a famous fan in John Belushi, who somehow got the band on Saturday Night Live for the Halloween 1981 show. Fear repaid Belushi the favor by swearing on live television (long before the advent of the two-second delay) and introducing the East Coast to a poetic art form known as slam-dancing. Later that year, the band began a Spinal Tap-ian rotation of bass players, which included pre-Chili Peppers Flea. Fear disbanded in 1987 and re-formed in 1991, and has seen many, many lineup changes (with Ving as the one constant) in the years since.

Pop a top again -- Fear is back in town.
Pop a top again -- Fear is back in town.

With their latest de-cobwebbing, Ving and company are giving fans the opportunity to have another beer with Fear.

So much for the vintage punks. Let us now tip our porkpie hats to a band of determined and dedicated men.

Englishman Rob "Bucket" Hingley founded the Toasters in New York City during the heyday of new-wave ska on the heels of England's 2-Tone movement. At the time (1982), the pre-reggae sound of ska was all the rage in the UK, and Hingley created a New York City-based counterpart that was just as vigorous and steeped in authenticity, giving downtown Manhattanites a hometown band all their own to skank to.

In the years that followed, Hingley and the Toasters managed to cultivate an American ska underground, made albums produced by Joe Jackson and founded Moon Ska Records to create a home for U.S. ska bands. Acts of far greater sales and prominence like No Doubt, Rancid and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones have reaped the benefits of what Hingley wrought, while the Toasters, for all their albums and tours here and abroad, have worked in relative obscurity.

Sadly so. After all, genuine ska is one of the most infectious and dance-inducing styles in modern music. And American ska acts owe a debt of gratitude to the Toasters for creating a lasting audience in this country for the style after the 2-Tone trend faded. Now, some 22 years on, the Toasters can be rightly compared to Jamaica's Skatalites when it comes to veteran status. And even after all these years, the Toasters offer as vital a club rave-up as any band of any stripe. So don that thin-lapel suit, slip on your creepers, and skank up a storm.

 
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