Los Angeles could not have bred a better mix of ska, soul and old-school funk – all wrapped together to make a premier “dirty reggae” genre – better than The Aggrolites, who graced San Diego with their presence recently at Solana Beach’s Belly Up Tavern. Knowing that the L.A. conglomeration is a good twelve years deep in the performing aspect, I went into the venue expecting an outstanding show, and boy, did they deliver!
The house was packed to brim as the opening, and local, 2-Tone Sounds took the entire stage – literally. Not only were the members skanking and twirling in every direction, the high energy cover group consisted of eleven people! The audience was going wild over ska hit after ska hit, ranging from Big D and the Kids Table to British Ska bands such as the English Beat or The Specials – each song sounding identical to the original track. One would think that the ecstatic audience, having the time of their life, was witnessing a headlining act.
After a short intermission, the main men in their signature black walked, or in the case of lead singer Jesse Wagner limped, onstage to complete the standard sound-check. A unanimous thought wave rippled the assembly and rendered a moment of silence as the crowd pondered: what happened to Wagner’s foot, and will it affect the performance we’re about to see? Little did we know that we had nothing to worry about.
The Aggrolites were so polished, so choreographed, so professional that it was as if each person in the audience were watching the band for the first time.
The Aggrolites were so polished, so choreographed, so professional that it was as if each person in the audience were watching the band for the first time. No one was standing, or sitting, still with the infectious rhythm and vivacity emanating from the stage throughout the facility, even prompting fully grown men to sit atop other men’s shoulders. The wounded Wagner didn’t miss a beat either, making sure to physically cater to every angle of the engulfed audience before him, negating his injury altogether. Keyboardist Roger Rivas continually transfixed the crowd with fingers flying at the speed of light, as if possessed by some form of black reggae magic only heard on recorded tracks. And even though the boys hail out of L.A. concert houses, they still maintain love for their neighbors to the south, admitting that the Belly Up Tavern is “the best place to play in the whole wide world.”
The following day brought about several people in San Diego adorning Aggrolites merchandise, myself included. More than that, the men in black deserve their continued support after releasing five full-length albums and one live album since their debut in 2002 – even having songs featured in films such as 50/50 and Bandslam. Next stop for The Aggrolites is The Victoria Ska Festival in Vancouver this July alongside Fishbone and Barrington Levy, but if Canada is a little too far away, you can always find them online or by joining the ‘Aggro Army’ at www.aggroreggae.com.