In 1998, Toasters singer Bucket Hingley said that "the people who are telling me ska is dead never knew it was alive." Cute quote, but ska faces bigger problems now. Today's radio listeners don't even know ska well enough to identify its corpse at the music morgue.
A decade ago, No Doubt and Goldfinger introduced the venerable form (it predates reggae) to young fans, who embraced its perky pace, undulating bass lines and brassy melodies. Nattily attired teens danced like marionettes with strings attached to their joints, guitarists rattled off rapid-fire reggae riffs, and wacky choreographed horn sections introduced slapstick comedy to smile-averse punk bills. Underage groups recruited trombone players from high school bands and changed their names from something like System Assault to something like Ska-Na-Na and Skabba the Hutt.
Skanks for the memories. Tour titles such as Ska Is Dead II prove that survivors have seen their good humor go to the gallows. Voodoo Glow Skulls, who emerged in 1993 with two trumpets blazing as one of ska's fastest, goofiest groups, now qualify as unlikely elder statesmen. The sextet has sharpened its aggressively sloppy live show, and its bilingual pride (several Spanish-language songs dot its discography) makes it an act popular with Mexican-Americans in a gringo-dominated genre. -- Andrew Miller
Friday, February 25, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.
The Secret Machines and Moving Units, with Autolux
Though the three members of the Secret Machines hail from Dallas, where they did time in a succession of '90s alt-rock acts like Tripping Daisy and Captain Audio, they now call NYC home. But their physical address doesn't matter; the members of this band are really musical citizens from a whole different stratosphere, one where bands like Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream, My Bloody Valentine and, yes, even Pink Floyd dwell. (The comparisons to Floyd are a tad overdone, but still...)
Now Here Is Nowhere, TSM's full-length debut, is the kind of old-fashioned record your uncle might have listened to on puffy-padded headphones with the lights on low while tripping on some Mickey Mouse acid. That said, the music of the brothers Curtis -- singer-guitarist Ben and bassist-keyboardist Brandon -- and drummer Josh Garza eschews stoner-rock stereotypes in favor of a lush, smart, multilayered wall o' sound that's especially evident on such tracks as "Nowhere Again," "Pharaoh's Daughter," "You Are Chains" and the driving "Light's On." Lyrically, there's room for both the political and the sexual on Now Here, although neither dominates. With just enough fuzz to give their music a comfy, Invisible Girl-like bubble barrier, this might just be the music a hip NASA technician could program into the sound system at the International Space Station.
Riding the wave of '80s revivalists, Moving Units toss bits of Gang of Four's Entertainment! and a few early-'80s electro-pop acts into the mix to create a catchy, danceable brand of rock sure to appeal to even the most jaded music fan. After opening stints with Blur, the Pixies and Hot Hot Heat, the band comes to Houston in support of its latest album, Dangerous Dreams. Equal parts disco, new wave and electronica, the L.A. trio is a more accessible, less offensive version of the Scissor Sisters. -- Bob Ruggiero and David A. Cobb
Saturday, February 26, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum with the Kants
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and experience the genuine, bona fide, certified humbug hullabaloo of the one and only Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. No siree, not even the legendary P.T. Barnum himself could've conceived of the clamorous concoction of sinister industrial noise, death rock and portending lyrics offered by this quintet of avant-garde art-rockers clad in the hottest of Victorian unmentionables. It's theater of the absurd straight from the sanatorium, inspired (in part) by the inane writings of one John Kane, a turn-of-the-20th-century futurist and mathematician. Folks, if your ears ail from the usual brand of musical snake oil, then the pulsating, prog-heavy and operatic metal generated by guitarist-front man Nils Frykdahl and bassist Dan Rathbun is guaran-damn-teed to clear out your cochlea. Rathbun also plays a series of homemade fantabulous contraptions -- like the "slide piano log" -- while percussionist Moe! Staiano clangs on found objects. Drummer Matthias Bossi and violinist Carla Kihlstedt also help create a cacophonous cipher you haven't heard since the time your grandpappy dropped the Victrola playing the Einstürzende Neubauten's latest phonograph cylinder on a pussycat in heat. -- Benjamin Leatherman
Monday, February 28, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington, 713-869-5263.
100 Demons, with Since the Flood, Pride Kills, Blood Ties, Formula for Victory and Frontline
100 Demons' self-titled album, its first with former Forced Reality vocalist Peter Morcey, ranks among the most potent musical sources for vicarious violence. It could serve as the soundtrack for the latest Death Wish rip-off, with its tough-guy tones and rugged riffs echoing acts of cathartic vigilante justice. Lyrically, Morcey is less gritty-as-Charles Bronson and more goofy-as-Bronson Pinchot ("I don't need the drugs / because the rage, it gets me high / I didn't say I won't do them, though / that would be a lie"). However, when a towering tattooed dude barks these loopy lines on stage, there's no chance of laughter from the audience -- which, actually, makes 100 Demons even more like a Pinchot project. Rich Rosa's double-bass drumbeats pulse like overtaxed arteries, and the labyrinthine dual-guitar interaction transports the Connecticut-based band from stomped-flat hardcore terrain to topographically intimidating metallic territory. -- Andrew Miller
Friday, February 25, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.
Hilary Sloan, with Dale Watson
Music remains a family business, but today's meddling mom-and-dad managers too often take a fiscal rather than instrumental interest in their offspring's careers. Hilary Sloan's parents pointed her toward the stage by making her a preteen player in their traveling band. At age eight, she was playing her fiddle at bluegrass festivals and rodeos. In a mild case of child-star rebellion, she briefly flirted with heavy metal in high school while setting traditional honky-tonk sounds on the shelf. But like the heroes of the genre's happier tunes, Sloan returned to her true love, playing authentic country alongside Bill Monroe before taking center stage in Aunt Erma's Filling Station (named, aptly, after a real-life relative's stomping grounds). Sloan's voice trembles gracefully during high notes, like a climber's flag billowing at a mountain's peak. To complement her own stunning compositions, Sloan fancies clever covers that shine rhinestone-bright glory on some overlooked pioneers of Texas twang. For example, "Some Forgotten Sunday" uses engagingly melodic verses to build to a fiddle frenzy that works as a wordless chorus. -- Andrew Miller
Friday, February 25, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9666.