These Damned Out-of-Towners

Last night was pretty surprising. I badgered some friends into taking me out to celebrate my five year Army anniversary (wish I could say those flew by…). Being the smooth, culture savvy dudes we are, we made our way down to the always fantastic Downbeat Lounge for beers and bullshit. At the door, we discovered there was actually a show going on. Well, thank my lucky stars. The cover was $10, a rarity for the Lounge. I knew something big was up.

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So, what was up? Jesse Wagner of The Aggrolites and Vic Ruggiero of The Slackers were playing! Don’t recognize anything from the previous sentence? Neither did I before last night, but my more ska-oriented friends quickly pushed me into slapping down $10 to find out. It was definitely worth the sum.

Josh86 and the Pressure were opening when we arrived. This is the more reggae/first-wave ska side of the various bands Josh plays in. I had actually never caught this one before last night, but it certainly keeps up with the high standard of awesomeness his other bands have set. Josh also owns the bar and half of the shows these days, so you’re unlikely to hear any negatives out of me.

Jesse Wagner is a guy. A very cool guy who, like Vic, wears a straw hat and knows his way around a guitar. He played a smooth mix of Aggrolites tunes and covers, including a ska version of a Clash song that had the whole crowd ooohing along with him. Speaking of audience participation: Jesse began his set solo on guitar, but each new song seemed to bring another excited fan to the stage to share the backup mic. By the end of his set, there were six drunken belters on the stage and a crowd screaming the words back at them. This is not usually how these out-of-towners do it. Luckily for us, Jesse did.

Vic Ruggiero brought a different show with him. Whereas Jesse is a ska/reggae playing Californian on guitar, Vic is a folksy/bluesy New Yorker with a lovely Long Island accent simultaneously playing guitar, harmonica, drums, and tambourine. Oh, and singing. The kind of coordination this requires for the simplest of songs is beyond me, but these songs were not simple at all. From “Takin’ Care of Business” (No, not the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song; That one has a g) to the Hawaiian-adapted, fifteen minute wildlife screeching story-song “Animals Run the House,” Vic laid down his own beats then danced across his guitar  and waa-waaed his harmonica to them.

Eventually Jesse jumped back on stage for some duo-action. While this seemed fairly impromptu at first, the performance eventually revealed its true nature in the form of a twenty minute medley of nearly every 50’s rock song I can name, all wrapped by a story of one friend warning another of (what else?) a woman. Then, with a twinkle in their eyes, they informed us they would be playing until Josh kicked them out. And, you know what? Like stand-up dudes, they kept their promise.

Want to get your very own Jesse-Vic experience? Well, they’re burning down Breakers as I write this and they will be making a return to Downbeat Lounge tomorrow, Saturday, June 8th, with Black Square. You’d be a sucker to miss it.

As usual, there are plenty of blurry, camera-phone pics at the Flickr (people still use this one, right? There are some still holding out against the Instagram onslaught?). Also, check out the Facebook and Twitter, ’cause, like, whatever. Animals Run the House.

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