Melbourne Ska Orchestra. The Gov. 26 Mar 2017
I have been a fan of Nicky Bomba for many years now, and I’m always impressed with what this finest of musical geniuses turns his hand to. Generally, he likes to dwell in the realms of reggae, and over many years, he’s become quite adept at bringing all sorts of reggae-esque sounds to the fore.
From his days in Bomba, playing a mix of roots reggae, rock steady and more (as an aside, it’s interesting to note that a Bomba gig was the first musical show I took my now wife to way back when we first met!) to the calypso sounds of Bustamento (who are playing in Adelaide on Good Friday at the Blenheim Festival in Clare) to the current massive international ska sounds of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, I’ve been a dedicated fan of Nicky and his music. A lot of the time, I’ve waved the flag in a relatively lonely room, but I am very pleased to note that with the MSO, Nicky seems to have found something that not only showcases his many talents, but has found favour with plenty of others. And if tonight’s show at the Gov is anything to go by, he has many fans indeed; the place is packed!
It is an extraordinarily humid evening in Adelaide, after a sweltering day, and despite the oppressive dense wet air it’s a perfect setting for music inspired by the Caribbean. The Melbourne Ska Orchestra introduced the concept of the Ska-BQ, showcasing a few local acts (Lucky Seven, Fistful of Trojans and Babylon Burning) during the afternoon before taking to the stage as evening broke, and while I was unable to make it to the earlier acts I arrive just as Nicky and his 20-strong band are taking the stage.
It is hot, I am tired, and the place is packed, but as soon as those horns fire up, one cannot help but dance and the energy flows all night! With a sizable horns and percussion section making up the left and right arms of the band, together with more usual suspects on guitar, bass, drums and keys, Nicky finds himself out the front on vocals and most importantly, tying everything together. He’s a true leader, and has fantastic musical prowess, interjecting and interplaying with different parts of the orchestra throughout, adding in ad-libbed breaks, interludes, calling on improv solos, and more. He’s a real master, and feeds on the audience vibe to ensure things are always running at 110 percent.
Musically speaking, the MSO (obviously) plays ska, but they also show that there’s a whole lot to the genre; much more than a retro punk-esque UK thing or an old-school Jamaican thing. Those aspects are there, and they take a dominant position of course, but there’s a whole lot more too. There are funk aspects, forays into different reggae styles like roots, dub or rocksteady, even bordering on doo wop, Latin jazz, elements of blues and rock, and the wistful sounds of calypso is embodied in the sound of the steel drums.
There’s a good mix of familiar and original tunes too, with covers like the Get Smart theme or the odd Madness tune sitting alongside some of Nicky’s originals. Tunes like Lygon St Meltdown, Sly Boots, and Escher go down just as well as any of the covers, and having the orchestra on stage gives so much flexibility for taking things to all kinds of places. Everyone gets their moment to shine too, which makes for lots of solos and lots of fun! There is a prize giveaway for best dancer and best dressed, with a 77-year-old dude named Lionel taking out one of the gongs, and getting up on stage, while Nicky free-styles a ska tune to him before he takes the mic and starts a ska version of Heartbreak Hotel; unplanned, but very awesome!
All good things must come to an end, and as usual, Nicky laments the difficulty of getting the whole band off the stage and back on again for an encore. But the crowd are not content to let the MSO slip away so easily, so Nicky entices the crew to make their way out, and forms a conga line through the audience, culminating behind the main bar, where Nicky proceeds to show off his drumming prowess by playing whisky bottles, ice buckets, beer taps, wine glasses, and even the ceiling!
The whole band weave their way back to the stage for a final blast of ska goodness, and then it’s stumps. As expected, the Melbourne Ska Orchestra play their hearts out, and the crowd laps it up. What a fantastic experience!
When: 26 Mar
Where: The Governor Hindmarsh (The Gov)