Growing up in Northern Virginia and going to high school in DC from ’95-’99, The Pietasters‘ name was definitely well known to me. I wasn’t a particularly huge fan, but I remember classmates always talking about them and their music would always be on mix-tapes playing in our darkroom during photography class. A few of my friends would go to their concerts and rave about what a good live act they were, but I never got a chance to see them. While I was in college in North Carolina, one of my friends was a big fan so their songs like “One Dollar Bill”, “Maggie Mae”, and “Movin’ On Up” became staples of our car rides back to Northern VA.
I appreciate ska music but it’s never really been in my constant rotation and since college The Pietasters have drifted off my radar. But when I was picking and choosing what bands to cover for WLDC a couple weeks ago and saw that they were playing a hometown show at the 9:30 Club on January 8th, I knew it was an opportunity for a fun night.
And what a fun night it was! There were four bands on the bill. Starting off was The Shifters, a female fronted DC Soul/Ska band who describe their sound as “rocksteady”. Andi, their lead singer, possess silky smooth vocals that delivered a sound that was in a stark juxtaposition to the next band. Hailing from DC, Copstabber brought a hardcore punk sound to the night, playing with relentless speed and ferocity. If you like your punk music fast, hard, vulgar, offensive, and fun then Copstabber is highly recommended and it wasn’t long before a mosh pit started in the middle of the 9:30 Club floor.
The third act was HR, a DC music legend. The former lead singer for the seminal punk band Bad Brains, HR has reached into his Rastafarian roots to produce a mellow reggae sound. Slight in stature, peaceful and mellow in demeanor, it was hard for me to believe that he was a wild punk icon in his heyday. Nonetheless, HR and his band were great; especially if you like reggae. With their solid rhythm section and warm guitar tones, I was able to forget that it was below freezing outside.
The Pietasters hit the stage at 11:30 and the crowd came alive as frontman Stephen Jackson wasted no time in leading his tight sounding band through songs that most everyone recognized and was able to sing along to. The first song, “Out All Night” was off their “Willis” album and the crowd shouted the lyrics of the chorus back to Jackson when he held his microphone out to the audience. Standing right next to the stage I could feel the people behind me jumping up and down as I was taking my photos. I don’t think Jackson stood still for the entire performance, he was constantly in motion and all over the stage. It’s safe to say The Pietasters brought it on Saturday night as every band member displayed a ton of energy.
A few songs in crowd excitement went even higher when Jackson dedicated a song to the bartenders who were working at 9:30 that night and the band launched into “Maggie Mae.” Everyone around me was singing along and I started to sing as well while taking photos as it’s my favorite Pietasters song. The energy level was infectious as Jackson stood on the edge of the stage shouting the lyrics with the crowd. “Maggie Mae bring us another beer we need another beeeeeeeeeeerrrrrr…”. Jackson paced back and forth along the front of the stage while holding the microphone down for various crowd members to sing. Then they played another favorite, “Biblical Sense” and Jackson continued to interact with the crowd.
It got pretty rowdy down front, too rowdy to take photos with expensive camera equipment so I headed up to the second level bar to have a drink and watch the rest of the performance. One of the highlights of the show was when HR came back onto the stage to perform a reggae inspired version of the Beatles song “Come Together.” Seeing two DC institutions together on one stage at the 9:30 Club was a memorable experience and throughout the night, the band effortlessly showed it’s range between ska/punk songs and slowed down reggae jams.
The crowd on Saturday night was great. While the show wasn’t completely sold out, it was still close to capacity and everywhere you looked there were people singing and dancing no matter what song the band was playing. Each song was greeted with an enthusiastic cheer, especially crowd favorites like “Drunken Master,” “Night Owl,” “Movin’ On Up” and “One Dollar Bill”. It was a good mix of different ages, everyone from teenagers to people who probably discovered The Pietasters during their formative years in the early 90’s, a true testament to the scope of the band.
All in all, it was an excellent night of music and a fun way to help ring in 2011. I picked up The Pietasters’ latest album “All Day” on the way out and I’ve given it a few listens over the past two days and I’ve really enjoyed it. I think it’s a more mature sound from their older material, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I plan on going back and picking up some of their other albums later on as this concert helped me rediscover a band I haven’t listened to in awhile.
Last but not least, a big shout out to audience members Claudia and Emily who snagged a setlist after the show; it definitely helped write this review!