When New Haven third-wave ska legends Spring Heeled Jack reunited for two shows at Toad's Place in 2010, every member of the band during its prime era ('96-'00 or so) returned to celebrate — aside from their drummer, the late, great Dave Karcich. While some of those members had moved on to other projects and/or no longer felt like rehashing the past on a regular basis beyond those two nights, some wanted to keep the momentum going, picking up where the band left off when their label went under and ska went so mainstream that it temporarily spoiled the genre beyond repair on a national level.
Guitarist/vocalists Mike Pellegrino and Ron Ragona have since played the songs of Spring Heeled Jack at some additional gigs with additional musicians, and this year they finally decided to officially reboot the band. This Thursday and Friday they play at the Spaceland Ballroom in Hamden, and since they've only released two full-length records, they'll be performing one album per night in its entirety. Their debut, Static World View, will be Thursday and the follow up, Songs from Suburbia, will be Friday. Trumpet player Tyler Jones is back in the mix now too, and we spoke to him on the phone about the group's more-permanent return. Rounding out the new lineup is Corky Evans on drums, Nick Bacon on keys (he used to play in the Pilfers, who often shared the stage with SHJ), Vinnie Noble on trombone (also ex-Pilfers, ex-Bim Skala Bim) and Seager Tennis on bass (Mellow Bravo).
"It was the Skalapalooza show they were playing [on 10/26/12 at Toad's Place] and I was like, 'Oh, let me go hang out with my friends,'" says Jones. "I just showed up, hanging out, drinking the Pietasters' beer. Because that's what we all do, we show up at each other's shows and drink each others' beer. Someone was like, 'Hey, do you want to borrow my trumpet because those Spring Heeled Jack guys are playing,' and I said, 'Sure, why not.' So I jumped up, played I think 'Jolene' and I was like, 'This is fun. I should do this more.' I've pretty much spent a lot of time since I've gotten out of the Reel Big Fish band being in retirement. That convinced me that I'm very, very good at what I do, so let's keep doing it. That was my personal motivation. Purely selfish. Had nothing to do with making music for anybody else or with anybody else.'"
You can't hear the inflection on Jones' voice in a typed sentence, but no, he's not serious.
"It's great to see the same faces we saw when we were coming up," he later admits. "We do this for them."
Jones lives in Massachusetts these days, but he's been commuting to a rehearsal room at the School of Rock in Fairfield (where Pellegrino works) to get the new horn section into shape. As a way of giving back, SHJ has asked some School of Rock students to play amongst the opening bands. (And there will be some sit-ins by the headliners too, so come early for that.) These guys are grown-ups now, and though they still know how to party with the best of 'em, they're not going to pretend they're still 17 either. There are some similarities between shows now and those back then, but there are lots of differences too.
"Back in the day you could see a show for five dollars, which meant every kid could go," says Jones. "Now it's like, tickets are more expensive and people are, in some cases, 20 years older. They have all these responsibilities and can't get all wild and hurt themselves at shows like they used to."
Jones was a recent high school graduate when he first joined the band. He went to see them play at the Sting in New Britain, and noticed that they no longer seemed to have a trumpet player. He approached trombonist Chris Rhodes after the show, who pulled Jones backstage and said, "This is Tyler. He plays trumpet." And then they gave him a beer. He auditioned soon after, and that was that.
"My mom had to look at a map of Connecticut to find out where Monroe was," says Jones, as Monroe is where the band was initially based.
The third wave didn't last too long, and the main aggravating factor had to be the absolute saturation of the genre on the radio and in the clubs.
"The more diluted the ska scene got, the less I was into it," says Jones. "When I was still in high school, there would be shows at the American Legion hall up in West Hartford where I first saw Spring Heeled Jack and J.C. Superska, but I also saw funk bands, hardcore bands like Toxic Field Mice... I loved the fact that for five to ten bucks I could go out for like four hours, hang out with a bunch of my friends and listen to three or four different kinds of bands. That's what originally drew me into the scene. It was actually the diversity of the scene that drew me into it. In like 1999, it was like there's a ska show going on five nights a week. You can call it the ska bubble if you will. So, it popped. The dilution of it really wore a lot of people out."
Spring Heeled Jack
Thu. Oct. 24, 7 p.m. w/ Lenny Lashley's Gang of One, The Hempsteadys, Choke Puppy (Reunion). Static World View night.
Fri., Oct. 25, 7 p.m. w/ Obi Fernandez, Sammy Kay & The Fast Four, Math the Band. Songs from Suburbia night. Spaceland Ballroom, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, (203) 288-6400. spacelandballroom.com. $20 each night.