A Buck's Worth

At a time when the life span of musical trends has shrunk to almost nothing, ska-punk's time may be running out. If the pattern continues, the extended party that is ska-punk could soon find itself facing a lot of revelers looking for a bash elsewhere. Like hair metal and grunge before it, the movement began as a cultish lark with a small but dedicated core of believers, then broke through to the mainstream on the strength of a few acts. Now, though -- like hair metal and grunge before it -- it's facing an almost certain backlash.

The opening salvo may have come in the form of a withering article by Jane Dark in the November Spin, which viciously discounts the trend that pogoed bands such as No Doubt, Sublime, 311 and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to national stature. Dark writes that "maybe the rise of ska-pop isn't the end of the world, unless you believe in apocalyptic boredom."

Among the bands Dark sneers at is Southern California's Buck-O-Nine, a group of guys who, in her opinion, "redo the Surf Punks as feel-good music," adding, "could I get a more vacuous take on life?"

Harsh words. Still, it's not the sort of thing that gives Dan Albert, trombonist for San Diego's irrepressible skank-core septet, night sweats.

"I don't give a crap what most critics think, because a lot of times they just don't know what they're talking about," Albert says. "They see one show or read a bio, and they're supposed to know everything. It's just one person's opinion on one thing that happens to get in a national magazine. Just because they say it, doesn't mean it should be [accepted] as the only way to think."

"There's more and more ska bands coming out, because it's just good, fun music," Albert adds. "And the more that people hear it, and the more they become familiar with it, then the more popular we will get. When we play some of the older songs at a show, a few people will sing along, but when we play the newer stuff, a lot more people join in, because that's what they know."

That newer stuff includes the tracks off Buck-O-Nine's most recent release, 28 Teeth, which the band feels is its best effort to date. "Each time we go into the studio, our ears become a little bit more fine-tuned and we have a better idea of what we're looking for," Albert says. "And we're always willing to try new things to see how they would sound."

Some of the CD's best songs are those with a decidedly twisted lyrical bent -- "Jennifer's Cold," a tale of rampant hypochondria ("We've got ourselves a little situation / It's worse than an alien invasion / Jennifer has got a cold / And everyone has got to know") and "Steve Was Dead," a wiggy little ditty about a car-crash rumor blown way out of proportion. And while you're likely to hear Buck-O-Nine's infectious "My Town" on the airwaves, you probably won't run into "What Happened to My Radio?" ("Oh no, not again, please tell me I'm wrong / It's been ten minutes since they played this song.")

Buck-O-Nine -- which, in addition to Albert, includes vocalist Jon Pebsworth, guitarist Jonas Kleiner, bassist Scott Kennerly, drummer Steve Bauer, trumpeter Tony Currey and saxophonist Craig Yarnold -- came together in San Diego, California, in 1991. That's when Albert, who had become infatuated with the trombone as a high school student after his brother brought one home, answered a "musician needed" ad in a San Diego newspaper. The ad had been placed by Kennerly, who had already gotten the core of Buck-O-Nine together, but was still a few players shy of the number needed to form the band. Albert came on board, and soon Currey, with whom Albert had played in a reggae band, followed. Two years later, Buck-O-Nine released a self-titled seven-inch, quickly followed by a full-length debut, Songs in the Key of Bree (recently re-released on Taang! records), Barfly, the E.P. Water in My Head and another seven-incher, True or False. 28 Teeth came out this April, and the band has been on the move promoting it ever since.

"We've been on the road a long time," Albert says, "but the energy level is still there."

Soon, the band will take a much-needed holiday break, though the soundtrack to those festivities won't be what you might think.

"We're all ska'd out," Albert admits.
Buck-O-Nine can only pray that the rest of the country isn't feeling the same way.

Buck-O-Nine performs Friday, November 28, at Westpark Entertainment Center, 5000 Westpark. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. The Suspects and Fat open. For info, call 933-4636.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero