Any story about New Brunswick, New Jersey ska-punk heroes Streetlight Manifesto is really two stories. One is about the music, a decade’s-worth of intelligent, clever, and genuinely fun albums that kept the flame going for third-wave ska (a flame vocalist/bandleader Tomas Kolnaky helped ignite in the late '90s with his prior outfit, Catch-22) — long after the genre’s mainstream moment clattered to a close.
The other is a story of the band’s turbulent relationship with label Victory Records, a dramatic and tortuous saga full of deceit, snark, and soap opera-level villainy that came to a head in 2013 with the label’s refusal to fulfill pre-orders sold by the band of their then-new album, The Hands That Thieve.
This was after Kolnaky announced he intended to self-release (under his Toh Kay solo moniker) an acoustic version of the album. It should all make for one hell of a book someday.
That dispute took an even uglier turn this past week, when the notoriously litigious label filed suit against the band for upwards of a million dollars
— according to the band, as much as five million
. Because really, what itinerant professional trombone player in 2015 doesn’t have millions squirreled away? Victory alleges that, contrary to the band’s assertions, Streetlight Manifesto have failed to complete their four-album contract with the label. (As far as Victory is concerned, two of the band’s five full-lengths didn’t “count.”)
Not that things are all peaches and cream on Victory’s end, either. The label made a separate set of headlines last week when a royalty dispute with Spotify resulted in their entire catalog being removed from the streaming service — including all of Streetlight Manifesto’s albums. For Streetlight’s part, the band aren’t bothered in the least; it’s hard to get upset over nonpayment of royalties to their label when, as they alleged on Twitter
, the label hasn’t paid them “a cent in royalties” in more than two years, anyway.
All of which means that, right now, the best way to support the beleaguered band — and to hear their excellent back catalog — is to catch them live. How often do you get a chance to give the finger to “the man” while simultaneously skanking the night away with a smile? Streetlight Manifesto have significantly cut back on their touring in recent years (you try spending eight months of your year living in a van at age 35), but they’re out on a rare two-week run right now that lands at Ft. Lauderdale’s Culture Room Tuesday night. They come with Dan Potthast — late of ska mainstays (and onetime Streetlight tourmates) MU330 — and folk-joke weirdo Sycamore Smith in tow.
Streetlight Manifesto, with Dan Potthast and Sycamore Smith. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 27 at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Ft. Lauderdale; 954-564-1074; cultureroom.net. Tickets cost $19.50 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.