Prior to the morning of Saturday, October 26th, it had been a long time since I’d experienced the deeply nostalgic sensations of waking up hungover, bruised, and sore after a Ska show and immediately draining the half-full bottle of room temperature Gatorade on my nightstand. It would be an overstatement to say that I missed it, but on some level it felt like seeing an old friend: even if you don’t want to see them every day, it’s nice catching up. Nowadays I don’t go as hard at shows as I did when I was 19 seeing Streetlight Manifesto play 700 person rooms, partly because my dumb adult brain wakes me up at 7:00 AM no matter what and partly because it turns out it’s kind of nice just watching a band and not getting punched in the face and/or covered in the sweat of a million strangers. At the risk of sounding like an Old, it takes a lot to get me into the middle of a pit these days.
And as it turns out Kill Lincoln is just the right amount of a lot.
Which is not to say that Kill Lincoln was the sole reason for my Saturday morning struggles of yesteryear. The unofficially dubbed Bad Time Tour (so-named for Kill Lincoln’s label Bad Time Records) featured an international lineup of Ska, Skate Punk, and Pop Punk that rocketed past my already-high expectations. On top of that, Kill Lincoln is originally a Washington, DC band and night one of the tour was at the Pie Shop, DC’s most up-and-coming venue and also the only one I know of located above a literal pie shop. As if the bands didn’t slap hard enough already, this would also be their first hometown show in six months. Hoo boy.
First up: Thirsty Guys. This brand new New Brunswick, NJ quartet just put out their first album through Bad Time Records and I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since. Of the four bands on the bill, Thirsty Guys slightly outpaced Kill Lincoln in terms of who I was most excited to see, if only because I’ve seen Kill Lincoln many times before. While there are a few connecting threads across the Thirsty Guys album, namely Joe Scala’s blown-out vocals and keyboard playing, there’s an impressive amount of variety within their debut album Parched, and the crowd was immediately into it. It didn’t hurt that Scala launched himself headfirst off of the stage at the first opportunity he got, popping right back up to his feet and finishing the song before proclaiming loudly: “Fuck, I really hit my head!”
The aforementioned Guys blew through their set at breakneck speed, pausing only long enough to solve the mystery of why their keyboard suddenly stopped working (spoilers: it wasn’t plugged in) and to rep their brand by repeatedly advocating for everyone in the crowd to stay hydrated. Like most of the crowd that night it was my first time seeing them live and it was extremely cool to finally get to dance along to “Falling on Deaf Ears,” easily my favorite song off of Parched. I’ve seen a lot of bands play the Pie Shop, but I can honestly say I’ve never seen a pit break out there nearly as quickly as it did for Thirsty Guys.
But if Thirsty Guys were the band that I was most excited to see that night, then Eat Defeat was the band that most surprised me. Nestled in-between two (admittedly excellent) Ska bands were the two international bands on the bill, and while neither one played Ska per se they were certainly Ska-adjacent. For example, I wasn’t expecting to hear some of the best Pop Punk of my year at a tour booked by a Ska label, but then Eat Defeat from Leeds, UK took the stage. Even though they obviously felt like the odd band out and were worried no one would like their particular brand of speedy harmonized Pop Punk, it turned out that their fears were completely unfounded. The crowd, myself included, embraced them wholeheartedly, which honestly shouldn’t have been a surprise considering that most of the people gathered in that room (again, myself included) have almost certainly logged more cumulative hours on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater than in actual human conversation.
As it turned out, we were all in good company for Eat Defeat’s heartfelt and passionate set list, which featured such new favorites for me as “Not Today, Old Friend” and the overwhelmingly catchy sing-a-long “Shortcuts.” The northern England four-piece would honestly sound perfectly natural playing alongside The Wonder Years or Alkaline Trio, but mostly I really appreciated the fact that they don’t mask their own voices with the stereotypical American Pop Punk accent like so many bands do. Even though vocalist/bassist Summers offered several times to translate for his bandmates because he “spoke American,” we were all on the same page, and there was no miscommunication when the band asked if they could play some more fast Skate Punk songs and the crowd responded with a resounding “YES!”
Apologies in advance for this tangent, but by the time S.M.N. from Fukuoka, Japan were setting up to play I wasn’t sure whose merch I was actually allowed to buy. Thirsty Guys made sure to tell everyone to buy merch from Eat Defeat and S.M.N. since they were from out of the country, but Eat Defeat told us all to buy merch from S.M.N. because they’d traveled farther. I half expected S.M.N. to tell us to only buy merch from bands who weren’t even playing the show. And I kid, but it’s always gratifying to see bands who have only played one or two shows together supporting each other like this. Touring is hard, exchange rates rarely work in international bands’ favor, and it’s not like anyone makes enough off the door of a punk show to recoup expenses. A t-shirt is a small price to pay for the opportunity to see an amazing band you’d probably never even have heard of otherwise.
Kill Lincoln spent a few weeks on tour in Japan this year, and when they came back they brought some of their new friends with them. S.M.N. (which stands for Slackers Make Noise according to the banner projected on the wall behind them) were so visibly excited to be playing for us that it put a smile on everyone’s faces immediately. Among a tight set of their own original songs, which have an enjoyable no-frills 90s Skate Punk vibe, there was also one shining moment of Ska pandering (skandering?) when frontman Kosuke Nishimura leaned into the mic and asked, “Do you like Less Than Jake?” before launching into a sped-up cover of “The Science of Selling Yourself Short.” Predictably, the Pie Shop exploded into a frenzy that left us all gasping for air and nursing bruises. The Fukuoka Punks closed their set by teaching the crowd the Japanese word “tanoshii,” which Nishimura explained to us meant “happy” and was exactly how we’d made them feel. I truly hope they felt half as happy as they seemed because I know for sure that I was.
If you’re a Ska fan in this, the year of our lord 2019, then you should absolutely be aware of Kill Lincoln, but on the off chance you aren’t then let me just say I’m excited for what you’re about to experience when you give them a listen. I always tell people that Kill Lincoln sounds like if Less Than Jake had a hardcore phase, but it would probably be more accurate to describe them as pure, undiluted Ska-Punk with breakdowns that will stop you in your tracks mid-skank and make you punch the floor. There’s a lot of innovation taking place in how brass is incorporated into Punk music these days, but if you’re craving the clean tones of the 90s as a counterpoint to some fast-as-fuck guitar, this is the band for you.
Kill Lincoln busted out a lot of old favorites, including “Clark Gable” and “Wake, Wait, Repeat” alongside the more recent bangers “Good Riddance to Good Advice” and the all-too-aptly titled “I’m Getting Too Old for This Shit.” Lead vocalist/guitarist Mike Sosinski’s almost superhuman stamina was surpassed only by official Kill Lincoln hype man Drew Skibitsky’s nonstop skanking in the pit, save for a few minutes when he joined the band on stage to play the acoustic intro to “Giving Up Giving In” as a preview for their Fest-exclusive Catch 22 cover set. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention trombone player Yasutaka Umemoto’s uncanny ability to consistently get ridiculous amounts of air without missing a doot.
And finally, at the end of the night Lorien and I crawled our way back to Baltimore in order to grab what rest we could. In the morning I’d be hungover and sore, and Lorien would be fine because she’s much smarter and healthier than me, but we would both still be basking in the positivity and friendship from the night before. Whatever people are saying these days, whether it’s “Ska’s not dead!” or that the fourth wave is here, it doesn’t truly matter. For those who love Ska, for those that the music speaks to, there will always be a place for us. Even if it’s just for one night.