If ska concerts are known for anything, they’re known for their crowds.
You see flailing.
You see the mosh pit.
You see every kind of punk.
It’s an experience like no other; there’s even a dance designed specifically for ska concerts called “skanking,” where dancers simultaneously punch and kick the air in quick motions. With hundreds of skanking dancers and ska music blaring, it becomes a scene of mayhem for the underprepared.
Things would become even more hectic if the crowd knew it was one of the last times they’d ever get to hear it.
Streetlight Manifesto made a stop at the House of Blues on Oct. 10 during its “End of the Beginning Tour.” The band, in an act of rebellion against its record company Victory Records, will end its extensive touring after this last trip.
Though the group isn’t breaking up, they will play only at select gigs and festivals in place of its regular stops across the country. “We’ll see you again, Cleveland,” shouts lead singer and guitarist Tomas Kalnoky during Streetlight Manifesto’s set. “We’re just not sure when.”
It could be years down the road. For the audience, full of skinheads, boots and a lack of shirts, it’s too long to be hesitant. This kind of an opportunity may never rise again.
So, the moment Streetlight Manifesto takes the stage, the crowd explodes, pushing and shoving to the squalling notes, surging back and forth, becoming a human wave.
Even before Streetlight performs, the audience brims with excitement. Openers Mike Park and Dan Potthast, while not thrilling (just two different guys with guitars), make the mosh pit move between their two sets.
One of Park’s songs, “Don’t Sit Next to Me,” is about troubles Park had in high school. The main chorus, “Don’t sit next to me just because I’m Asian,” is met with a crowd who whoops, cheers and chants along.
Surprisingly, Park’s children’s songs about animals and eating apples are met with a few crowd surfers.
In contrast to Park’s acoustic songs, Potthast has a more punky ska influence to his music. In the middle of his set, Potthast announces a dance party, turns on a crackly old boombox and viciously strums away at his guitar.
Many of his songs sound like stream-of-consciousness written at the last minute. One song bullies a heckler in the crowd who yelled “Freebird!” during his set, and another (“Streetlight”) describes the dangers women encounter, ending with the phrase “I thank God that I can go out at night because I don’t have ovaries.”
Potthast leaves the stage. Streetlight Manifesto enters. Then, chaos.
The crowd gets so insane that just after Streetlight Manifesto’s opening song “With Any Sort of Certainty,” Kalnoky orders, “When someone falls down…”
Like small children repeating a lesson, the audience replies: “You pick them back up.”
The band moves into “We Will Fall Together,” featuring the horns. When trombonist Madav Nirenberg bubbles out sultry melodies, the crowd reduces to mere throbbing, listening to the masterful solo. Trumpeter Matt Stewart’s bopping solo has a similar effect.
When the band goes all-out, the same blue-haired mohawked guy crowd surfs for the twentieth time, and another shoe is thrown into the air. There are so many people, so much sweat and so little space.
A claustrophobic worst nightmare, but a punk rocker’s dream come true.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” sees a thinned-out audience, though many of the diehard fans remain at the front row, moving and grooving throughout every song.
Various items periodically fly through the air, usually balled-up paper or a beer can. A white fedora delicately floats down to the floor near Kalnoky’s foot. A stagehand runs onto the scene and picks it up, darting off as quickly as he appeared.
“A Moment of Silence” opens with a direct, militaristic horn line riff. The song’s more structured and slow pace allows for some rest. Themes from this song continue into “A Moment of Violence,” with ramped-up tempos hammering behind Kalnoky’s fleeting lyrics.
The band exits the stage, but the crowd will not have it.
Everyone yells for one more song. Within minutes, Streetlight Manifesto returns with two.
A rush onto the dance floor. People tunnel into the heart of the crowd to tumble around during “Somewhere in the Between.”
Then, Streetlight begins its last song, “The Big Sleep.” If there is any time that everyone completely loses their minds, it’s now.
People kick and scream out the lyrics, hopping around and battering everyone surrounding with skanking-turned-thrashing.
Kalnoky spurts out a quick “Bye” before the band leaves the stage.
The night ends with bruises and coats of sweat (whether it’s yours or everyone elses, you’re not quite sure), but it’s magical in its own grungy way.
The most pit was violent, but people weren’t shoving or kicking each other out of anger or resentment; it was a celebration.
After all, when people fell, there was always someone there to pick them up.