Belly Up Tavern, Monday, December 31, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. $38.
The Aggrolites say they are not a ska band, but for the life of me they sound like one, minus horns. That's the tipping point between ska and reggae, the horns. A ska band has a trombone and a sax or a trumpet, while a reggae band is all rhythm section: bass, drums, guitar, and sometimes keyboards. The Aggrolites' ska conformity comes from the ska-flavored "walking" bass line present in most of their songs, the guitar chords chopping on the off beats, and the standard drum cadences. I know, sounds just like reggae. We could argue the finer points of ska vs. reggae (historians say that ska came to be sometime during the '50s and predates reggae), but in spite of the Aggrolites' protests, I hear places where horns could be all over their sound. Instead, they back fill their arrangements with a giant old tube organ that gets hauled around from gig to gig.
Having recorded all of their albums in this decade, the Aggrolites are late to the dance. The '80s was the last epoch in which ska and reggae were to die for, powered as such by blue-eyed punk reggae outfits like the Police. Go back another 20 years, and it was something called skinhead reggae that was all the rage in the U.K. The L.A.-based Aggrolites seem to favor the driving beats and mod tendencies of that era and have blended it with '60s soul to make what they call dirty reggae.
The band has a secret weapon in their singer, Jesse Wagner. Whether he knows it or not, he is an authentic R&B torch. His unlikely voice has the explosiveness of a Jackie Wilson coupled with the growling soul grind of a Bobby Womack. Wagner is an eruptive act, and his style and his performance elevate yet another SoCal reggae band into the ranks of legendary ska-reggae bands like Rancid and Madness.
AGGROLITES, Belly Up Tavern, Monday, December 31, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. $38.