Far from Leisurely, not quite Imperious

March 8, 2009 at 6:11 pm (Gigs) (, , )

Imperial Leisure – Brighton Coalition – 06/03/08

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I have to be honest and come right out and say it from the start.

I’m always a little wary of Ska bands. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Specials and have several Trojan Records compilations, but there was always something about the wave of Ska-punk bands that emerged in the late 90’s that left me cold.

For a start they always seemed to have a few too many members, several of which seemed to act as cheerleading peripheries to the overall attraction. Secondly, very few of them really seemed to have anything to say, the wit, verve and social consciousness of the 80’s bands giving way to lyrics chiefly concerned with partying, defying parental authority or pointlessly covering A-Ha songs.

Perhaps most crucially, it seemed that Ska had got to a similar point that the blues had by the early 60’s: appropriated by mainly white musicians and seamlessly incorporated into the mainstream by record labels who realised it could sell, and, as a result, suffering from a paucity of musical ideas. Indeed, on the odd occasion I did get out to see a bit of Ska, chiefly as a brief diversionary knees-up of no real substance, I would find myself gainfully skanking to 3 different tunes played on repeat with slightly different lyrics.

So it was with a little trepidation that I entered the Coalition on Friday night to see a band that had been making waves not only in the tight knit Ska community, but among mainstream palettes such as T4 and um, the ITN news.

From the very first beat of the opener ‘King of Kings’ however, the band show that they mean business. Yes, there are about 15 of them, (2 vocalists, guitarists, bassist, a few horns, drummer, DJ etc) and yes there were a fair amount of be-dreaded cider drinkers in attendance, but the energy and drive of the band mark them out from their peers almost immediately. Tracks like ‘The Beast’, ‘The Art of Saying Nothing’ and ‘Man in the Street’ brim with energy and the bands use of Beastie Boys style MCing, combined with more traditional Ska singing ensured the pace did not drop.

Most importantly though, the group are not short of tunes and have an excellent understanding of how to put them together. The use of simple horn lines in songs like ‘Great British Summertime’ helped to ensure that the melodies ingratiated themselves into young minds at the earliest opportunity, and despite the superfluity of band members, everything sounded tight and well rehearsed to the obvious delight of the mixed crowd.

However, the biggest problem the band faces remains their relative lack of progression from the new wave of Ska bands from the 90’s. While tracks such as ‘King of Kings’ sound excellent in isolation, repetition of their musical themes and vocal delivery does start to grate after a while as some of the flagging dancers will testify.

This is not to say that Imperial Leisure are without talent, and for the time being they look set to become a very good Ska band indeed. They have tunes, attitude, energy and a vibrant group dynamic, but it still feels as though they need to make better use of some of the myriad of musicians within the band if they are to progress further.

The lead guitarist, to my knowledge, only came forward for a solo once in the entire performance, but when he did, the entire song was transformed. Similarly, the DJ seemed under-used, almost as if he had been added in as an afterthought. It may have been that both were simply too far down in the mix, but the band will need to explore these facets further if they want to become more than just a party band.

For the time being, Imperial Leisure are an extremely entertaining and highly accomplished Ska band that you would bet on to get a crowd moving in almost any circumstances. Whether they have the desire to become anything more than that remains to be seen.

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