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Gonzo Report: Save Ferris brings a clapping crowd to the Belly Up

Maybe the band was a bigger deal than I had remembered

Save Ferris: a Powell solo showcase with ace backing.
Save Ferris: a Powell solo showcase with ace backing.
Video:

Save Ferris was signed to Epic Records in the mid-’90s, after fellow Orange County ska band No Doubt rocketed up the charts


Ska music has a habit of popping up every decade or so to ride a brief wave of mainstream success before it gets slammed back underwater. Or underground, anyway. Save Ferris was signed to Epic Records in the mid-’90s, after fellow Orange County ska band No Doubt rocketed up the charts via their 1995 album Tragic Kingdom. This era, commonly referred to as the third wave of ska, started to run out of gas by the late ’90s. Save Ferris’s second major label album veered more towards pop-punk, and by 2004, the band was pretty much done. They never really became a household name even during their prime (their greatest success was a cover of Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen”) and so I didn’t know what kind of turnout to expect at their Belly Up gig on recent Friday night. While I wasn’t expecting the club to be empty, I was very surprised to find it quite packed. Maybe Save Ferris was a bigger deal than I had remembered.

I found a spot near the back of the floor for their set. The average age for attendees seemed to be in the thirties or forties, but there were plenty of twentysomethings in attendance as well. Judging by the wardrobes, there were obviously some punks in attendance, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess this was gonna be a ska gig by scanning the crowd before the band started. That’s not really a surprise, since ska is just one facet of this current iteration of Save Ferris, which includes only one member of their classic lineup — lead singer Monique Powell. After some lawsuits with ex-bandmates, Powell became the sole owner of the group’s name in the mid-2010s. This current version of Save Ferris is basically a Powell solo showcase, with ace hired guns backing her. As a result, the performance overall had a professional sheen that seemed fitting for larger festival stages. When was the last time you witnessed a lead-singer tackling three wardrobe changes at a Belly Up gig?

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Powell’s stage persona seems tailor-made for a Vegas residency; on this evening, she slipped easily between genres such as swing and pop and proved she could drop entertaining, wise-cracking stage banter with the best of them. It was only when this collection of pros reached into ye olde Save Ferris back catalog for songs such as the innocent, silly, and very ‘90s “Spam” that things seemed out of whack. You couldn’t help but wonder how this collection of musicians (sans Powell) ended up on this stage playing this novelty song about Spam. That being said, most of the crowd on the floor seemed to enjoy what the band was offering.

The only real hiccup came when the festivities were derailed for a short time due to a microphone failure. I began to suspect the immanent arrival of technical issues when Powell started marching through a series of James Brown-esque mic-stand tricks that included pulling the stand up off the ground via the cable connected to her vocal mic. It was no surprise when the next song started and no vocals came out of the PA. At least five minutes of switching cables and testing different mics ensued. In the end, it’s probably best to treat a vocal mic cable as more of a lifeline than a leash.

I have never been much of a ska fanatic. Maybe if I had spent my teenage years wearing checkered sweaters, I would have had as much fun as most of my fellow floor-dwellers. And my somewhat lousy attitude almost came back to bite me in the ass near the end of the night, after Powell had instructed the audience to clap while holding their hands above their heads during a particular song. I remained in grump mode and made no effort to obey. Shortly thereafter, Powell stared down the guy directly in front of me and insisted that he, “the guy with glasses” (which meant it wasn’t me), had best start clapping, because she wasn’t going to continue the song until he did. The guy held his ground for a bit, but she continued to dig in and insist that he clap. Eventually, he folded and banged those hands above his head.

I found this battle between band and fan to be a total riot, and was grateful that I had been spared the humiliation. Note to self: crowd participation at ska shows will be strictly enforced.

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Save Ferris: a Powell solo showcase with ace backing.
Save Ferris: a Powell solo showcase with ace backing.
Video:

Save Ferris was signed to Epic Records in the mid-’90s, after fellow Orange County ska band No Doubt rocketed up the charts


Ska music has a habit of popping up every decade or so to ride a brief wave of mainstream success before it gets slammed back underwater. Or underground, anyway. Save Ferris was signed to Epic Records in the mid-’90s, after fellow Orange County ska band No Doubt rocketed up the charts via their 1995 album Tragic Kingdom. This era, commonly referred to as the third wave of ska, started to run out of gas by the late ’90s. Save Ferris’s second major label album veered more towards pop-punk, and by 2004, the band was pretty much done. They never really became a household name even during their prime (their greatest success was a cover of Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen”) and so I didn’t know what kind of turnout to expect at their Belly Up gig on recent Friday night. While I wasn’t expecting the club to be empty, I was very surprised to find it quite packed. Maybe Save Ferris was a bigger deal than I had remembered.

I found a spot near the back of the floor for their set. The average age for attendees seemed to be in the thirties or forties, but there were plenty of twentysomethings in attendance as well. Judging by the wardrobes, there were obviously some punks in attendance, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess this was gonna be a ska gig by scanning the crowd before the band started. That’s not really a surprise, since ska is just one facet of this current iteration of Save Ferris, which includes only one member of their classic lineup — lead singer Monique Powell. After some lawsuits with ex-bandmates, Powell became the sole owner of the group’s name in the mid-2010s. This current version of Save Ferris is basically a Powell solo showcase, with ace hired guns backing her. As a result, the performance overall had a professional sheen that seemed fitting for larger festival stages. When was the last time you witnessed a lead-singer tackling three wardrobe changes at a Belly Up gig?

Sponsored
Sponsored

Powell’s stage persona seems tailor-made for a Vegas residency; on this evening, she slipped easily between genres such as swing and pop and proved she could drop entertaining, wise-cracking stage banter with the best of them. It was only when this collection of pros reached into ye olde Save Ferris back catalog for songs such as the innocent, silly, and very ‘90s “Spam” that things seemed out of whack. You couldn’t help but wonder how this collection of musicians (sans Powell) ended up on this stage playing this novelty song about Spam. That being said, most of the crowd on the floor seemed to enjoy what the band was offering.

The only real hiccup came when the festivities were derailed for a short time due to a microphone failure. I began to suspect the immanent arrival of technical issues when Powell started marching through a series of James Brown-esque mic-stand tricks that included pulling the stand up off the ground via the cable connected to her vocal mic. It was no surprise when the next song started and no vocals came out of the PA. At least five minutes of switching cables and testing different mics ensued. In the end, it’s probably best to treat a vocal mic cable as more of a lifeline than a leash.

I have never been much of a ska fanatic. Maybe if I had spent my teenage years wearing checkered sweaters, I would have had as much fun as most of my fellow floor-dwellers. And my somewhat lousy attitude almost came back to bite me in the ass near the end of the night, after Powell had instructed the audience to clap while holding their hands above their heads during a particular song. I remained in grump mode and made no effort to obey. Shortly thereafter, Powell stared down the guy directly in front of me and insisted that he, “the guy with glasses” (which meant it wasn’t me), had best start clapping, because she wasn’t going to continue the song until he did. The guy held his ground for a bit, but she continued to dig in and insist that he clap. Eventually, he folded and banged those hands above his head.

I found this battle between band and fan to be a total riot, and was grateful that I had been spared the humiliation. Note to self: crowd participation at ska shows will be strictly enforced.

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