Ska's third wave brought us lots of things that might be best forgotten -- bands like the Aquabats, pasty vocalists affecting Jamaican accents, and legions of punk-ska lineups playing the same four chords with tinny horn sections screeching in cacophony.
But if not for the short-lived ska revival of the mid-90s, most of us would have never heard of The Toasters.
Where most ska bands placed blaring horn progressions, the Toasters would opt for soulful sax riffs. Where most guitarists would itch for a distortion pedal, Toasters guitarist Rob Hingley stayed faithful to the clean signal of his Marshall. And while most contemporaries handed over lead vocal duties to Connecticut natives in checkered suits, the Toasters were fronted by an actual dancehall singer.
Obi-Ajula "Coolie Ranx" Ugboma joined the New York City-based Toasters in 1994, lending his brand of melodic patois to an already-potent lineup of musicians who drew from jazz, blues and reggae influences. If third wave ska represented the American suburbs, then the Toasters represented the sounds of New York, London and Kingston, Jamaica.
The result was Dub 56, the Toasters' greatest album. The band was on top of its game when it took stage at Port Chester's 7 Willow Street on Sept. 24, 1995, less than a year removed from the reggae-heavy Dub 56 sessions.
On songs like "Run, Rudy, Run," Hingley's British croon alternated with the Ranx's thundering vocal riffs over a punching reggae upstroke. On "Legal Shot," Ranx intoned a tale of island vengeance in nearly unintelligible dialect.
Backing up the vocalists were first-rate rhythm and horn sections: Trumpet player Brian Sledge, keyboardist Dave Barry and saxophonist Fred Reiter were prominent members of the band who moved on later in the decade. But at 7 Willow Street -- and a handful of other Port Chester appearances in the mid-90s -- they wove jazzy improvisations with hypnotic rock steady rhythms, making it sound as if the bombarding styles were invented for each other.
With the departure of Ranx -- who would go on to form the band Pilfers and pioneer the fusion of reggae and metal -- the Toasters were never quite the same. But in Port Chester, a few hundred reggae and ska fans saw them at their very best.
To hear a studio version of The Toasters' "Dub 56," click here. To hear a studio version of "Legal Shot," click here. To see Coolie Ranx and The Pilfers performing "Legal Shot" live in Ithaca, click here. Got a recording of The Toasters at 7 Willow Street in Port Chester? Send it to us and we'll post it.
Legendary Port Chester runs every Tuesday and profiles historic performances in the village's history. Got an old recording from a seminal concert at The Capitol or the old 7 Willow Street? Tell us about it, and don't forget to share your favorite memories of the show. Were you at a concert we've already profiled? Write in and tell us about your experience in Port Chester's sonic history.