with Beat Union
It’s been about ten years since the ill-fated ska explosion of the late 1990s, and it seems that the world is finally willing to give the genre a chance again. Hellcat Records’ ska and reggae roster might be down to only two bands, but when those bands are as good as The Aggrolites and Westbound Train, you really don’t need anyone else. This show marked the first time that Westbound Train has been back to Salt Lake since the release of their Hellcat debut, Transitions, in the fall of 2006, and I for one had been eagerly anticipating their return. They had stolen their show with their soul-heavy brand of reggae and ska the previous times I had seen them, so I was confident that would be the case again. I caught the last few minutes of a mediocre ska/rock/metal hybrid band called Chango Malo and wasn’t impressed, but I had heard good things about the UK outfit Beat Union, so I moved a bit closer to the stage as they set up.
The members of Beat Union were decked out in their finest Mod style duds and delivered an impressive set of rock that sounded like a less pessimistic and bitter version of Gang of Four. The crowd was reluctant to get into the band at first, but the amount of energy and stage presence they were giving off (and probably the booze) got the crowd excited, dancing around and pumping fists into the air. They even dabbled in reggae and ska, delivering a brief cover of The Specials “Ghost Town” that got the skinheads in the crowd particularly excited. Beat Union seems like they might be a bit too late to ride the wave of post-punk revival bands that swept across the musical landscape a few years ago, but they’re still worth keeping an eye out for.
Beat Union tore down their gear fast and Westbound Train began to set up enough gear for the seven-man group on the small Urban Lounge stage. When vocalist Obi Fernandez took the stage, the band immediately launched into “Seven Ways to Sunday” and kept the crowd moving throughout their brief set. The band played primarily material from their Hellcat debut, delivering only three songs that didn’t appear on Transitions, though those songs were probably the best of the night. A bouncy, ‘60s ska style cover of The Temptations’ “Cupid” was the best song of the night, keeping the crowd excited and having a good time, even after an overly drunk/excited fan started causing some trouble. Fernandez cut the tension and kept the crowd peaceful, dedicating a new organ-heavy song to the rambunctious fan. The band closed with “Salvation” from their first album, delivering a sense of energy live that is absent on the recorded version and capping off their set in spectacular fashion.
I couldn’t stay to see Bedouin Soundclash close the show and was a bit disappointed at the short set that Westbound Train delivered, but every time I see them it reaffirms my faith in ska music as a viable genre. These guys are young and still have their best years ahead of them, which is hard to believe considering how well they already blend soul, ska and reggae into a potent style that no other band comes even close to replicating. Judging by how many people were singing along and how the band handled a crowd, I think these guys are ready to headline. Next time Westbound Train comes back to Salt Lake, I’ll definitely be there.