Many moons later

The Slackers finally return to Dayton

By Gary Spencer

Photo: The Slackers tear down the wall between band and audience; photo: Imelda Malczyck

Ah, the ’90s… a time many people refer to as the good ol’ days in Dayton, a time when touring bands came to the Gem City by the dozens from across a spectrum of genres – punk, metal, emo, hardcore, indie rock, and probably the hottest underground genre of the time, ska.

The ’90s were unquestionably the best of times for ska music. The genre’s popularity was at an all-time high, with bands like Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Dance Hall Crashers, and Save Ferris getting steady airplay on MTV, and 1993’s Skavoovie tour featuring The Skatalites, The Selecter, The Special Beat, with The Toasters topping as one of highest grossing tours of that year. Similarly, lots of indie ska bands were also drawing big crowds on their own tours, such as Mustard Plug, Skankin’ Pickle, Hepcat, and The Slackers. The latter band regularly made Dayton a stop on their seemingly ceaseless tours during the ’90s and early 2000s, packing whatever room they happened to be playing and putting smiles on every face in the joint.

As the popularity of touring bands coming to the Gem City waned, as well as the crashing of the popularity of ska, The Slackers haven’t been seen in our fair city in nearly a decade. But that’s about to change this coming Thursday, as the NYC sextet makes its long awaited return to Dayton at Rockstar Pro Arena.

The Slackers came together in Manhattan in 1991. While the group’s musical founding was based on ska at its core, according to the band’s saxophonist Dave Hillyard, the band spent their formative years just trying to figure out what they were all about.

“We came up with a style that mixed old Jamaican ska, reggae, and rocksteady with American blues and R&B and Anglo-American garage rock,” Hillyard explains. “You can hear the Jamaican influences but our style is played and sung with an American accent. It has that deep energy of early ska and early rock and roll at the same time.  You may think you have heard ska, but you haven’t heard us.”

The Slackers released their first album, Better Late Than Never, on the legendary Moon Ska label in 1996. The album garnered a lot of attention due to the intriguing mix of musical styles the band wove seamlessly with the overt ska influences. Before long, The Slackers upgraded to the Hellcat Records’ subsidiary of legendary punk label, Epitaph Records. Wasting little time, the band released its second album, Redlight, on Hellcat Records the following year, and with the aid of relentless touring, their popularity exploded, making The Slackers one of the hottest ska acts worldwide.

“We have toured around North America, Latin America, Japan, Korea, most of western and central Europe, Turkey, playing over a 100 gigs a year, every year since 1997,” Hillyard says. “That’s around 2000 shows in that time.”

Likewise, The Slackers have gone on to release 12 more albums since 1997, with amazing consistency in quality – a boast that most bands 25 years into their career can’t claim, including their eponymously titled new album that came out earlier this year, completely funded by fans via crowdsourcing. The band’s efforts to keep it together and keep the music flowing is worth it due to their extremely loyal fan base.

“In some ways, we were lucky not to have a hit in the 1990s,” Hillyard says. “We were an underground band then and still are. We have had a lot longer career because of it. When third wave ska was dying and on its way out in the late ’90s, we went out and found our own gigs – built up our own audiences in small clubs across the country. And, we have been lucky that our fans have stuck with us.”

Clearly both the fans and the band agree, the live setting is where The Slackers truly thrive – and a key reason for the band’s ongoing success.

“I think we play more aggressively live than we do on record,” Hillyard says. “We use dynamics.  We bring it down to an acoustic level at times and then bring it back up to full blast rock and roll.  Whether it’s quiet or loud, we try to make it danceable. And, we realize that a show is not just about us performing and the audience listening. We try to break down the walls between ourselves and the audience. We want you to become part of the band.”

And speaking of playing for good crowds, Hillyard is definitely looking forward to playing the Gem City again after all these years.

“We have had a lot of fun in Dayton over the years,” he says. “I feel like the Dayton crowds aren’t interested in scenes or labels as much as they are interested in good music. They seem to like us just for what we do…which is always refreshing. That is what sustains us and keeps us going – going around the world to visit our old friends.”

The Slackers will perform this Thursday, Sept. 22, at Rockstar Pro Arena, 1106 E. Third St. in Dayton. The Duppies, Jasper the Colossal, and Lioness are also on the bill. Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 day of show. Doors at 7 p.m. for all ages. For more information, please visit RockStarProWrestling.com.

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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