Live Review: Melbourne Ska Orchestra + AuSkas - Metro Theatre, Sydney (03.05.13)


The by no means unsubstantial stage at the Metro was still technically empty, but exceedingly full with banners and music stands marking out the positions of Melbourne Ska Orchestra’s eighteen piece horn section. With the seven or eight other musicians who would join them, this stage would soon be brimming with a sea of high energy Ska. These guys are the business!

Support act AuSkas delivered a decent set with some highlights being their cover of the Stones “Paint It Black” and what I think was their own “Hip Hip Hooray”. Founder Marty Fabok is of course no stranger to Ska having already experienced success with the Allnighters as well as the Igniters. AuSkas sound resembles early Two-Tone and with a five-member line-up and rather more limited instrumentation compared to the orchestra that would follow, their sound added a nice, gritty contrast to the evening.

Once the support act finished I kept wondering how Melbourne Ska Orchestra were going to fit on the stage. Let’s just say they did … barely. As the rest of the band took up their positions the horn section played in unison as they ambled out on to the stage. Spontaneously, founder and conductor Nicky Bomba let out a rapturous “one, two, three, four” and it was on for young and old. Second in, the “Get Smart” theme saw heartfelt felicity develop in the crowd. The original “Lygon Street Meltdown” likewise saw some serious dancing to reward the band’s efforts. I keep saying that Ska audiences are some of the craziest (and possibly the most volatile) out there and Friday night certainly saw a highly spirited bunch in attendance, but nothing quite as insane as say a Porkers gig circa 1997. Nonetheless, the sheer amount of manic movement and spirited skanking evident at the show simply proves the power of Ska and Reggae. There’s something in the music that makes people move without thinking, seemingly hypnotized.

Of course, the show had to pay tribute to the classics and what other song incorporates the spirit of Ska and Rocksteady better than Dandy Livingston’s “A Message To You, Rudy”. I’ve even heard the Specials play this live which was a treat, but there’s something divine about hearing it with the extensive horn section of Melbourne Ska Orchestra’s touring machine. I don’t want to rave too much, but it really is something rather special to see such a huge band come perfectly together and absolutely nail this style of music. I was a little bit tired to get up there and boogie, though soon enough I found my head bopping energetically. Quite simply, it’s infectious. Is this becoming a rave review?

Practically all the material from MSO’s recent self-titled release was covered on the night. “Papa’s Got A Brand New Ska”, a reinterpretation of a James Brown classic sounded particularly full along with my favourite “Paradiso”, which came a little later. At one stage there was even a quintessential Nicky Bomba drum solo, where the bandleader showcased his first love.

Nearing the end of what I think was close to a two hour set, there was still time for “The Best Things In Life Are Free” before a positively dance inducing version of Madness’ “Night Boat To Cairo”. Didn't I feel sleepy earlier? That’s right, it’s infectious.