At the height of the late '90s so-called Third Wave ska craze, bands like the Aquabats could seem to represent the silliest of the crop. On one hand, more serious, soul- and reggae-inflected "traditional" ska acts like the Slackers and Hepcat were trying to emphasize their Jamaican musical roots. Then, on the other, came acts like the 'Bats, who represented a shamelessly goofy, Southern California attitude, freely mixed rock into their ska, and wore costumes to boot.
The joke may be on the haters from back then, though. The Aquabats'
quirk turned out to belie some brilliantly left-field creativity, and
the band's taken a Devo-style career path into television and other
multimedia work. (The painfully hip psychedelic children's show Yo Gabba
Gabba is the work of founding Aquabat Christian Jacobs, a.k.a. MC Bat
The band plays in Fort Lauderdale this Thursday at Revolution
with fellow Third Wave survivors Reel Big Fish. In honor of that,
here's a look at the Bats, plus four other costumed bands (in no
particular order) whose music is actually worth a listen.
The Aquabats have maintained their fictitious universe from day one, dressing as superheroes and purporting to be from an island called Aquabania. As the legend goes, the island was attacked by a space monster, but the 'Bats escaped on a log and washed up in California. Random space henchmen still show up to battle the heroes, though, and this kind of costumed fantasy still makes up a big part of the band's live show.
Underneath all that, though, the band takes a page from the best lineage of Southern California-style synth pop. Some of it is still nominally ska, but these days, the Aquabats mostly play a sort of updated New Wave, with big hooks and the occasional guest star. Here's "Radio Down!," the band's latest single, which features the frequent Yo Gabba Gabba star Biz Markie.
At about 27 years and running, monster-metal shock-schlock act Gwar has been a band longer than many of its fans have been alive. Most of them flock to its live acts solely for the notoriously over-the-top gorey schtick, which involves onstage decapitations, wrestling duels to the death, alien onanism, and many, many gallons of hard-to-wash-off fake blood.
New studio albums continue to appear at a steady clip every two or three years, most with a loose narrative theme that's ridiculous on purpose. Still, the band boasts some kind of killer fist-pumping metal anthems. Here's "Crack in the Egg," off the band's 1992 album, America Must Be Destroyed.
(Along the same lines, see also the Gwar-lite Finnish band Lordi, Norwegian symphonic metallers Dimmu Borgir, and fellow Norwegian Mortiis, whose prosthetics make him look like an evil elf but who plays deadly serious industrial- and ambient metal.)
A band from landlocked Nashville that plays surf rock? Why not. Oh, and in Mexican wrestling masks? Life's short! The quartet boasts serious musical chops though. Founding members Eddie Angel and Danny Amis were well-established session players and studio types on the Music City scene when they formed Los Straitjackets in the late '80s. The stage gimmick only helps to attract fans to the band's tight instrumentation, and the quartet remains a huge draw on the rockabilly/retro circuit. (Locally, they notably headlined the 2009 edition of the annual Hukilau tiki-culture festival.) Here's a video for their song "Tempest," which was featured in the 2000 indie flick Psycho Beach Party.
Here's an entry to break up the rock and roll load of this list; costumes span all genres! Daft Punk's jumpsuits and helmets are more uniform than costume, and they accomplish the exact opposite of the getups of Gwar, et. al.: They serve to draw attention to, not away from, the music. The French producer duo's obscured faces and unassuming physical presence makes their legendary house tracks seem all that much bigger.
Still, their visual look makes them instantly recognizeable to fans, as in their cameo in the recent Tron: Legacy, which the pair scored. Here's the official video for "Derezzed," which includes their brief spot in the film.
While early-'70s glam rockers were flirting with space imagery and theatrics, Kiss took it to its ultimate, arena-sized conclusion. The ultimate costumed band, Kiss's iconic visuals proved an enviable and unmatched act of branding that's kept the band filthy rich. It helps that they also wrote some of the best hard rock party anthems of all time, recognizable even to people who barely listen to rock, thanks in part to their immortality in commercials and soundtracks. As just a drop in the Kiss hit bucket, here's "I Was Made For Loving You."
The Aquabats, with Reel Big Fish, Suburban Legends, and Koo Koo Kangaroo. 6 p.m. Thursday, January 20. Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $32.20 (including fees). jointherevolution.net; 954-449-1025
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