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.
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