Mustard Plug: Better Than Alcohol

The Mustard ManMustard Plug with the Planet Smashers, et al

May 31, 2003, Metro, Chicago

How come ska gets no respect? Why is it?

Is it the matching outfits? Can’t be. The Hives wear matching outfits and everybody loves them. So I don’t know.

But I do know that on a Saturday night at the Metro in Chicago, about 1,200 kids were totally getting off on the music of the Planet Smashers and Mustard Plug. These kids were going nuts. It was exhilarating to watch from the relative safety and calm of the balcony with the rest of the people too old or just too exhausted to be involved in the mosh pit that consumed the entire floor.


Full disclosure: I am friends with the guys in Mustard Plug. They are from my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and we’ve thrown back plenty of Old Styles together, listening to Black Sabbath at Mulligan’s, a neighborhood dive in G-Rap’s only cool part of town.

I was a little shocked when we arrived. This was one of those all-day, multi-band ska-fests and we showed up at that very end to catch the one band I know I like. I had been told that Mustard Plug was going on at 8:45 sharp. (They were the headliners; you’ve got to love all-ages shows.) The Planet Smashers were still playing so I walked to the bar and bought a couple beers. No line, no waiting. I looked around the bar and the handful of people there were hanging out patiently, looking somewhat bemused, wearing Mom jeans. Oh my god, I realized, I’m in the Parents Section! I looked out onto the floor at a moshing sea of teenagers, all pierced and spiky-haired, but obviously clean and mostly sober. Do they think I’m somebody’s dad? In an alternate universe, I guess I could have a teenage kid by now; I mean, I was biologically capable fifteen years ago to impregnate someone. Jesus Christ, I’d better down this beer and order another one quick! Thankfully, I was the bartender’s only customer.

After I recovered from my mid-life crisis—don’t worry, I have them all the time—I started to notice how much fun the crowd was having. How into it they were. I looked around for the sure-fire signs of the ska fashion scene: vintage suits and ties – check; checkered suspenders – check; wallet chains – check; big old mohawks – check; big old baggy shorts – check; little girls in little pleated skirts – check. So yeah, there’s a uniform. But what scene’s crowd doesn’t have a uniform? Ever been to an alt-country show? Western shirts – check; thick-framed glasses – check; old school sneakers – check; Pabst Blue Ribbon – check; lack of girls – well, you get the idea.

And the music. It was great. I’m not that hip to current ska, but the Planet Smashers (from Canada) played a bunch of really good songs. Yes, they had typical horn parts played by typical horn guys who jumped around entirely too much. Or was it too much? I’ve got to admit I couldn’t take my eyes off them as they ran around the stage like nerds at band camp who’d just finished off that six-pack of Jolt. The crunchy guitar parts, the sing-along choruses, the dopey lyrics about girls… What more do you want in your pop music? This stuff was great.

And Mustard Plug is just awesome. They’ve got their shit together. It’s hard to believe they’ve been around for over 10 years. I remember hearing one of their first songs on the local alternative radio show, and absolutely hating it. I was all into the Smiths and the Stone Roses at the time so hearing a bunch of goofballs chanting, “We want the mustard, we want the mustard… PLUG,” wasn’t going to win me over. It was a few years later, seeing them live, when it started to make sense. Their songwriting had improved by then, and just watching them work the crowd was incredible. It was as if the music somehow forced you to dance. Or at least bounce up and down. Or at least smile.

And by 1997’s Evildoers Beware (Hopeless), Mustard Plug was no longer just a goofy local band. They had actually become good, solid songwriters and musicians. They were even recording with the guys from the Descendents/All. Unfortunately, this was the same time that ska was getting some action on mainstream radio and MTV. Remember the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get”? This was also right when the whole “swing” thing was going on, so bands with horns were the next big thing. This little blip in pop music history didn’t last long, of course, but every band even remotely related to that scene was deemed a bandwagoneer, some justifiably (Cherry Poppin’ Daddies), some not (the Squirrel Nut Zippers actually recorded some really interesting music but were ignorantly lumped in with the “swing” scene). Pretty soon, all the ska bands started kicking out their horn players and calling themselves emo, whatever the hell that is, or just “punk.” Apparently, Blink 182 and Sum 41 were the next next big thing.

But not Mustard Plug, baby. They kept their horn players. And when the few remaining bands who still actually played ska were asked to describe their music, they’d invariably have demure and evasive responses alluding to punk rock and heavy metal and all kinds of crap that didn’t really identify what they sounded like. But not Mustard Plug. When they were asked what kind of music they played, they’d defiantly say, “Ska.”

So fuck you to the snobs who scoff at kids who love music that doesn’t meet your standards of coolness. Fuck you and your killjoy attitude that attempts to make people feel stupid about themselves and the things they enjoy. Fuck you for trying to sound smarter and cooler than you really are. Fuck you because I know you’re going to reply to this article with some smartass comment intended to show how witty and clever you are. Fuck you and take your bullshit hipster attitude and shove it up your ass. Because Mustard Plug is a good band, and they write good songs, and they make good records, and they play great concerts. (The guys in the band are far too nice to tell you to fuck off like that, but I am bound by no such constraints.)

This was a great show and the crowd was loving it. Going apeshit. Losing their minds. It felt like these 1,200 people were seeing their favorite band ever—a band that never gets played on the radio, never gets videos on MTV, never gets mentioned in Rolling Stone, Spin or even Magnet. And yet they still draw 1,200 rabid fans to come dance their asses off with them.

Before they played their final encore, guitarist Colin Clive looked out over the sweaty crowd and thanked them for coming out and supporting the scene. “And as you get older,” he said, “don’t forget how much you love this music.” It’s just insane that he should have to remind them of that.

There are tons of mp3s on the band’s multimedia page, including their hilarious take on the Verve Poop’s “The Freshman” (fellow Grand Rapidians, you know).

30 thoughts on “Mustard Plug: Better Than Alcohol”

  1. Anybody who describes his or herself as a music fan and denies a ska phase – however brief or lengthy – is a lying douche bag. My own ran in patches from 1991 to late 1994.

    JTL

    “I saw the Devil, wing tip shoes on his feet.

    Pork Pie on his head, he was diggin’ the beat.

    And the band ripped like demons when he screamed,

    “Turn on the heat!”

  2. I can only interpret the “fuck you” paragraph as directed at me. But I stand by my dislike of ska. And I disagree with Johnny. You can just as easily skip the ska phase in favor of a death metal phase, a prog rock phase, a reggae phase, or even an avant garde jazz phase.

  3. All of those phases are just as valid, and it’s true that one could have a Swedish black metal fascination instead of a Moon Records kick. Lots of people have many phases, ska, black metal, prog, etc. being just a few of them. It’s been my experience that ska is a particularly popular musical growth spurt for many.

    JTL

  4. I am the Mustard Man. There’s only one of me and I skank like nothin you ever seen.

    Bout time my boyz got some props from the big media whores on the net.

    Ska’s about havin fun, man. Gettin along with other people. Havin a good time.

    Shout out to Colin, Dave, Jim, Brandon, Brad and Matt.

    To those who don’t get it, I wish you a nice smooth and creamy Hot Carl!

    Peace Out

    Mustard Man

  5. Ha! I’m in a ska band. I went through a stage of denial, but I’ve come to accept my lot. I’ve been in alot of different types of band…(emo, alt-country, rock, rawk, jazz etc…) and I’ve NEVER had the type of crazy fun shows in any other “genre”. Untill I joined this band, I’d forgot how fun playing music can be. You watch almost any ska band, and if just feels like they’re having the time of their life. I think there’s something to be said for that. Ha!

    rrnate

    http://www.somethingtodo.ws

    px We’ve played with Mustard Plug four or five times, and they’re just an awesome band. Ridiculously so.

  6. “Anybody who describes his or herself as a music fan and denies a ska phase – however brief or lengthy – is a lying douche bag.”

    Call me what you will, Loftus. Never had a Ska phase.

  7. SKA is basically white kids trying to play reggae, right? Reminds me of “The Blues Song” by the dead milkmen

    You see the blues

    The blues isn’t an art form

    It’s not a type of music

    The blues is a product

    Not unlike computer chips or tampons

    The blues is a way for white kids to feel

    That they understand the feelings of black people

    Without ever having to meet any of them

    The blues is all these things and more

    Available for $19.95

    /flamebait ;)

  8. “I can only interpret the ‘fuck you’ paragraph as directed at me.”

    There are a lot of haters out there, Sab. That paragraph was directed at all the cynical people who don’t believe that FUN is one of the many respectable objectives of music.

    Why do people stop dancing when they get older? Why should we have to be shitfaced to shake our asses a little bit now? What makes grown-ups so damn uptight? These are some of the issues my “fuck you” paragraph was about.

  9. Phil, man, I’m just joking around. I’m giving sab a hard time. It’s all tongue in cheek.

    Sab is cool.

    “SKA is basically white kids trying to play reggae, right?”

    Huh? What the fu??? Ska as a musical form predated reggae. The crop of 90s ska-core bands, which MP is inextricably included, took influences form punk, rock, reggae, ska, rap, etc. It’s no different than almost any flavor of indie rock. I think that criticizing the kids and adults playing their brand of music is bogus. It also is an attitude that ska is usually set up to counter. It seems to me that Jake is stating this fact. Down at the foundation of rock music you’ll find this same idea, that having fun and celebrating with music is a worth while way to spend some time.

    And isn’t rock usually just white kids playing black music anyway????

    Scotty

  10. RRNate said…

    “Ha! I’m in a ska band. I went through a stage of denial, but I’ve come to accept my lot. I’ve been in alot of different types of band…(emo, alt-country, rock, rawk, jazz etc…) and I’ve NEVER had the type of crazy fun shows in any other ‘genre.'”

    Yes, Nate, but have you tried POLKA! It whips ska silly! I’m fookin’ serious! Ska is fun, yes. But polka is euphoric and revelatory!

    You see, Nate was once in my band. We played rock music. My little heart is now crushed knowing that we were part of his of “denial stage.” It’s OK, Nate, we still love you.

    Go to http://www.tangymusic.com to see what Nate is shunning for ska.

    Back on topic, I don’t think I ever had an official ska phase. I enjoy all music. Even polka. I did actual have a polka phase. Love the Brave Combo. But ska, not really. I didn’t follow the Plug around, or anyone else. A friend tried to turn me onto the Bosstones before they were cool, but immediately dropped that effort as soon as they hit the Buzz Bin in April of 1997.

    Ska: A damn fun time, but not as life-altering as when indie rock and David Bowie entered my musical sphere in high school.

  11. For the closest apporxmation to 60’s style, Jamaican ska going today, barring old guys like Prince Buster and Laurel Aitken of course, check out Hepcat. Way slower than bands like Mustard Plug, but very cool, soulful, beautiful music. I plug Hepcat whenever I can.

  12. I could be wrong, but I believe Hepcat broke up a few years ago. Granted, any one of their CD’s are great, but if you want a really good existing ska band, check out the Slackers. OR, those of you in the Michigan area should check out Stamp’d, they’re phe-f#king-nominal. Simply great.

    rrnate

    http://www.somethingtodo.ws

    px Pay no heed to JTopless, he’s only dangerous if you look him in the eye.

  13. It looks like the only current Hepcat happenings are a couple of reunion shows in the LA area this summer. Still, if you dig ska, get the albums.

  14. Hepcat has some great songs. I remember seeing them with Mustard Plug at the Reptile House in Bland Rapids (it may have actually been next door, but I remember everyone siting in the Reptile so they could drink).

    A very smooth band. Great horn players, and great lyrics.

  15. I hate to keep harping on the Hepcat thang – okay, not really – but I always thought the thing that distinguised Hepcat from the rest of the Third Wave crowd, other than the fact that they played such a reverent version of ska, was their vocal parts. Most of the Third Wave ska bands are led by people who grew up on punk, and their vocal styles are undisciplined and raw for the most part. Hepcat’s vocals were always soulful and as smoothe as silk, and to my mind that made them the premiere Third Wave ska band. It certainly made them the best singers of the lot.

  16. In addition to being a tight, movin’ ska band the guys in MP are also 100% stand-up, A-OK individuals. Most of ’em live in my community so I oughta know. If you like ska even a little check ’em out. They’re about as far from R’n’R A-holeland as you can get.

  17. don’t forget a “crusty punk” phase, which still affects me to this day philisophically…

    the band Nausea had areally great ska part of one of their “crust-punk/metal” songs…

    for some good soulful ska,check out the STingers from Austin….nice

  18. I always felt this was kind of an inferior, silly alternative to punk and hardcore. Glad this polka shit has died out. Kiss my grits, Nooge.

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