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Mod Squad

Melbourne-Ska-Orchestra-1

Astor Theatre

Saturday, September 28, 2013

If events on the afternoon of September 28, 2013, had caused a cloud of faint melancholy to descend over much of Perth, none of that was in evidence within the Astor Theatre that evening. A bustling crowd bounced and shuffled and swayed their way through an evening of storming funk, soul and above all, ska.

Mod Squad were our first joint shakers, introduced by singer Ian Falk as ‘a bit of mod, a bit of ska, a bit of a dance and a bit of a laugh’, before launching into Itchycoo Park. The tone was set. With each song they sucked more and more patrons from the cinema style seating to the dance floor in front of the stage. Often those going to dance would throw an incredulous little glance back at those who remained seated. At this point, and many others during the evening, only a strict adherence to journalistic objectivity restrained me from inflicting my own creaking moves on the unsuspecting gig -goers. Falk is a lovably incorrigible ham, with his Bowie and Jagger poses, his Phil Daniels impression during Parklife, his James Brown yelps and jumps. But what’s clear (and overwhelms any snobbish qualms about cover bands) is the joy and fun of it all – it’s the music Mod Squad loves, not themselves.

Following an interval, the brass section of Melbourne Ska Orchestra strutted on stage, decked out in shades and suits, accompanying themselves with a dark, creeping reggae tune. What swells their 21 members to the size of a conventional orchestra (and beyond) is the audience. From the start it was established that we too were, at least for the night, in the group. MSO’s frontman and ‘conductor’ is Nicky Bomba, and in a second he had the crowd in his thrall, leading us through a set of calls and responses.

It wouldn’t be the last time we were utilised in this way; as the sunny rock steady of Time To Wake Up closed, they held the final note  – Bomba, back to crowd, raised his hands and the band got louder, he dropped them and they fell quiet. He gestured to his right, the note slid a semitone sharper, to his left and it drifted flat. He reeled through each pose and they missed nothing. It was a bravura display. He turned to the crowd and attempted the same manipulation with their cheers. As enthusiastic as our efforts were, one suspects we weren’t quite as tight.

From the exquisite single, The Diplomat, MSO were joined by Rebecca Ari, whose gale force voice belies her youthful countenance and slight frame. The set pieces continued to pile up. Midway through the Afro-Caribbean bop of While You Wait the roadies set up a drum kit at centre stage, where Bomba sat and played an extended drum solo. Here, his theatrical nature may have spilled over into indulgence; but just as it seemed people were finding it hard to dance, the band slid back in.

Fun is king with theses guys. All night, the brass section danced around the stage. It wasn’t choreographed. They just couldn’t help themselves.

_ CHARLIE LEWIS

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