People wonder why Jerry Lewis is huge in France. Or why hair-metal bands carry on careers in Europe long after the death rattle of their torpedo-sized Aqua Net cans. Still others wonder why, when all signs point to Provo-Orem, aka Happy Valley, aka Stepford, being a staid, no-party limbo, the blissful, inherently party-esque sounds of ska are so fetchin’ popular. Leave it to that city’s current ska champs Two & a Half White Guys to have a plausible theory as to why the music is the second-most influential entity in Happy Valley.
“I think,” speculates Marko Fagg, the band’s Afroed drummer, “a lot of it has to do with all the kids from Southern California that come up here to go to BYU.” Good point—it would have to be outside influence, because Happy Valley, in spite of its name, just ain’t jumpin.’ But why did it catch on? Bassist Dan Nelson weighs in: “For the clean-cut type, ska’s modern offshoots [third-wave/revival, ska-punk] tend to offer a high-energy music that you can jump around, mosh or stage-dive to, without having to look like a punk and irritate your parents.”
Well, that makes perfect sense, and explains the proliferation of other ostensibly innocuous styles like shoegaze, emo or sensitivity-blasted pop rock in the area. Hip-hip, pickitup-pickitup ska, however, is by far the most prominent. So, to borrow from KRCL’s popular Saturday evening show: Huzzah for ska!
Incidentally, it’s on Huzzah for Ska that 2.5WG are playing tonight, having made a black-ice-impeded two-hour crawl from Provo. After a gag query about pay-per-song (the punchline being that KRCL 90.9, being “listener supported”—read: poor—can’t pay), they gamely kick out three jams. None are ska in rawest form, and that’s 2.5WG’s gift.
They adhere to ska’s “original” form (a hodgepodge of numerous styles—jazz, calypso, swing, blues, R& —all very rhythmic and upbeat) for the most part, but emphasize two offshoots: reggae (slow ska, or as Fagg puts it, “reggae is what happens when traditional ska players smoke a lot of pot”) and “rocksteady” (half-throttle ska, with prominent piano and bass). This, they embellish as needed with jazz, blues, hip-hop, honky-tonk, even spaghetti Western (as on “El Baile Del Sluggo Loco”) and blaxploitation funk (“Shot Down”).
“It’s funny,” says singer-guitarist Nate Robinson later. “We started by saying we’d only play traditional stuff, and now very little of our stuff could really be considered ‘traditional.’ That’s the beauty of this genre, though—it lends itself very well to adding influences, which keeps it interesting for us.”
Two & a Half White Guys (part-Micronesian Marko named the band) formed in 1997 from members of several popular local ska-and-something-like-it acts including erstwhile local faves Stretch Armstrong/Stretch, My Man Friday and The Scrotum Poles. As with many bands, it was first a goof, a way for the members to get their jollies playing trad ska and reggae covers. “We just wanted to have some fun,” says trumpeter Sluggo, “playing what we liked. We didn’t really figure it would get as serious as it has.”
They started writing original tunes and touring; one EP, one live album and an LP later (check out TwoandaHalfWhiteGuys.com), they’re one of Utah’s premier ska bands, and nationally recognized (most notably with their inclusion on Jump Up/Megalith Records’ comprehensive four-CD box set, Still Standing). They’re no longer servicing just those crazy Provo kids; they’re providing party music for the nation. Because, you know, other folks like ska, too—just for less sociologically interesting reasons.
“It’s been my experience,” says Fagg, “that most of us drunks and stoners like ska because it’s easier to dance to when you’re intoxicated.”
Such bipartisan/bicultural appeal can be dangerous, and the world might have cause to beware of Two & a Half White Guys. Might? Make that a definite maybe, after Nelson delivers the silly battle dry, “We are Alpha and Omega! All will bow before us! OK, not so much. Maybe.”
TWO & A HALF WHITE GUYS, Burt’s Tiki Lounge, 726 S. State, Friday, Nov. 28, 10pm