Steel City Ska Fest @ Spirit Hall Pittsburgh, PA

Live Reviews | By on Oct 7th, 2019

Date: September 21, 2019
Lineup: Mephiskapheles, The Independents, The Burnrides, Catbite, Dissidente, iNCO FIdO
All Photos Courtesy of Crawfo Productions

Steel City Ska Fest was the brain child of local rude boy Derick Reid and came into existence as a means to promote ska music of varying genres as well as to provide a place for the Pittsburgh ska kids both young and old to hang out and enjoy a full evening of upstrokes and downbeats.

The initial lineup consisted of local Pittsburgh bands iNCO FIdO, Dissidente and the Burnrides as well as Catbite hailing from Philadelphia and national ska punk acts the Independents and Mephiskapheles closing out as the headliners. This was by far the most ska and ska punk infused lineup since the Ska is Dead tours of the mid-2000s.

Kicking things off at 6pm on the dot were iNCO FIdO with their soulful, blues-infused ska punk. They ripped through their abbreviated set and got the ever-growing crowd stomping their feet. iNCO FIdO have been a staple of the Pittsburgh ska scene for a few years now and they get better with every show and they’re always interacting with the crowd and having a good time. I don’t think that I quite believe that they wrote that one song from the “Ghostbusters II” soundtrack, but what do I know?

Following up iNCO FIdO, were another local band called Dissidente. Admitting that they were maybe like 45% ska and mostly thrash punk, they were thankful for being on the bill and then proceeded to tear everyone’s faces off with some hardcore metal-infused crust punk similar to Leftover Crack and early Anti-Flag. Dissidente are a great example of ska music staying political and poignant as they anti-Trump songs about the border wall as well as songs promoting unity of the people.

Taking the stage next was Catbite, a powerpop mod ska band from Philly. Already owning their debut album and familiar with their songs on disc, I was very excited to see Catbite live and I was not disappointed. The four-piece seemed to bring everyone in the building to the dancefloor, as all that lie before me was a wave of skankin’ rudeboys and rudegirls dancing to their soulful ska sounds. The songs were fun, catchy and well-written…from the haunting guitar riff and keys of “Can’t Give You Love” to the raucous skankable rock and roll riffs of “Amphetamine”…they didn’t have a bad song in their set.

Topping off the local bands on the bill were a wild and wacky ska punk band called the Burnrides in what was apparently their second show ever. They looked like a wonderful band of misfits and freaks…and they were absolutely great! With songs about punching Nazis, Pennsylvania trailer park girls, the Mermaid of Pittsburgh (!?) and a Pittsburgh ska punk theme song, they had me cracking up their entire set. When the time came for them to end their set, I was disappointed that it couldn’t continue for another hour or so. I had hoped that they would have had some music to sell at their merch booth but alas, I have to listen to the rough cut of “The Mermaid of Pittsburgh” on repeat on YouTube until that time comes.

With nearly three hours of ska behind us, it was time for one of the headlining acts to take the stage and first up was the Independents. Hailing from Florence, South Carolina, the Independents blend together the horror punk sounds of the Misfits and A.F.I. with rockabilly and ska punk into something that has always uniquely been their own. With a heavy ska setlist to fit the theme of the evening, the Independents ripped through some of their best known songs like the proverbial bat out of hell.

Classic fan-favorites such as “Bloody Night, Bloody Knife”, “Quarter To Three”, “Left For Dead” as well as their cover of “The Sword of Damocles” from the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” got the crowd moving and Evil Elvis’s falsetto crooning and Davey Havok-esque sneering kept them going. The Independents closed their set out with a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Caught In A Trap” and, of course, their absolutely amazing ska punk cover of Danzig’s “Mother”, which back in the 90s was my very first taste of the Independents from the “Skandalous: I’ve Gotcha Covered Volume 2” compilation.

Their songs were played fast and loud and they absolutely embraced the theme of the night and seemed to have one hell of a time doing it as well. It had been quite some time since I’ve been able to catch the Independents but, after 25+ years in the scene, they haven’t missed a beat.

With five bands down and one to go, Mephiskapheles were the 6…6…6th band to take the stage and the final headliner of the evening. Hailing from the deepest darkest nether-regions of New York City, Mephiskapheles brought forth their hauntingly evil metal-infused ska punk upon the totally expecting patrons of the Steel City Ska Fest. Kicking things off with their seminal self-titled opening track, Mephiskapheles threw the place into a mass of swinging elbows and dripping flesh not seen since the last local Catholic priest convention. They continued to rip through tracks both old and new as they introduced a new track to the crowd from their upcoming album among other devilishly good favorites such as “Bad John”, “Satan Stole My Weed”, “Break Your Ankle Punk”, “Introducing the Yellow Passion”, the hyperspeed super-enhanced version of “Rank & File”, “Social Theory”, an early-set inclusion of “The Bumblebee Tuna Song” and one of my all-time favorites OF ALL TIME…“Saba”. Mephiskapheles took a brief break and ended the night fittingly with none other than “Doomsday” to send those that remained into a rudie rage. And with that, five plus hours of ska was in the books.

With my long trip back home afterwards with nothing but the thoughts and feelings of the evening’s events fresh in my mind, I can honestly say that the Steel City Ska Fest was one of my all-time favorite shows. Was it the amazing lineup of some of my favorite bands from the early days of my introduction to the scene nearly 25 years ago? Yes. Was it the gathering of the new and up-and-coming bands from the Pittsburgh area (and one from the Philadelphia area)? Most likely. Was it the fact that everyone in attendance was friendly and accepting and that there was a feeling of family and community that, outside of the local bands at most picture shows, seems to be lacking with the national acts most of the time? Probably. Or was it the fact that every single band stuck around until the end of the show and, as I looked around throughout the night, said band members always seemed to have a smile on their faces or were just jamming along and enjoying the music as much as the fans were? Absolutely!

The atmosphere and overall friendliness of everyone at the show, from the promoter Derick to Evil Elvis of the Independents to Michael from Mephiskapheles, to the fine people working the door, to the bartender and servers at Spirit…it was like one big happy ska family. Whether you were playing powerpop ska, crusty ska punk or singing about Bumblebee Tuna, or dancing along to someone singing about Bumble Bee Tuna, it was all about unity…something that has always been at the forefront of ska music and the ska community. Top that off with almost a full workdays worth of ska music and one hell of a ska lineup, and you got yourself something special. Here’s to many more Steel City Ska Fests! Viva la ska!

iNCO FIdO

Dissidente

Catbite

The Burnrides

The Independents

Mephiskapheles

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