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The Mad Caddies bring unique brand of ska-punk to Altar Bar

By Stephanie Roman / Staff Writer

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The Mad Caddies released  Dirty Rice yesterday — the band’s first new album in seven years. But when they stopped at the Altar Bar on Sunday with fellow third-wave ska band Mr. Skannotto, their recent release might not have been so apparent. 

A label-organized album release tour isn’t exactly the Mad Caddies’ way. They get good marks for loyalty; in a 20-song set, only three were drawn from Dirty Rice. Instead, The Caddies put on an unofficial greatest hits show of Keep it Going,  its reggae-inspired, fun-loving and utterly jammable effort from 2007, interspersing its best tracks among many of their catchiest and most ridiculous tunes.

The Caddies dove in with a new song, “Shot in the Dark,” which sounded classically funky and danceable, and instantly put the crowd in a good mood. They immediately followed it with  “Backyard,” a moderately-paced upstroke reggae sway. Vocalist Chuck Robertson crooned, “You’ve got the cure for your disease growing in your backyard, whoa-oh,” as a pleased audience bounced to the hypnotic hippie anthem and sang along.

Dustin Lanker cranked his keyboard to maximum volume, cutting through his five other bandmates with exceptional poignancy, and his contributions during “State of Mind,” “Without You,” “Coyote” and “The Bell Tower” were downright satisfying. Robertson also exposed Lanker as a diehard Steelers fan, which drew cheers from the audience in Pittsburgh — a city that’s notoriously receptive to sports talk at shows.

For as many straightforward jams and Wailers-influenced slow dances, The Caddies played just as many energetic thrash, punk and more typical third-wave blends of rock and ska, like “No Hope,” “Tired Bones,” “Contraband” and “The Gentleman.”

Mixing fast and slow doesn’t make for a revolutionary stage performance, though. Throughout the Mad Caddies’ 19-year history, they’ve written numerous phenomenal, unprecedented and genre-defying mashups to separate themselves from similar artists. 

Take “Monkeys,” which reminisces vaudevillian tappers and cane-dancers, which then cuts immediately into “Weird Beard,” an unequivocally campy pirate ballad complete with banjo, the keyboard’s accordion setting and the awfully forged gruff tones emanating from Robertson.

The Caddies’ set revealed a theme of contradiction. There were odd dichotomies, like the most “hardcore”-looking kid in the crowd requesting all the hippie, peace-loving tracks and juxtaposing “Contraband” (“Contraband, I love you/ Contraband, I need you so”) with “No Hope,” which takes the opposing stance and defies simple affection — “You ain’t going nowhere/ You got no chance to see/ There’s no way home.” 

But the best example was Robertson’s introduction to “Weird Beard.” 

“We want to dedicate this next song, because it’s a pirate song, to the Penguins,” he said.

After “Weird Beard,” Robertson and the horn players left the stage while the rest of the band went on a five-minute funk interlude. Rarely has a club band had the bravado to perform this kind of classic rock device, but it seriously worked. Only The Mad Caddies are capable of pulling that off and keeping the audience entertained with some dirty, funky dance grooves.

When recalled for the encore, The Caddies closed with only one song, but it sufficed for three. Ending with the illustrious “All American Badass,” The Caddies deposited some old-school polka on the captivated crowd, switching between a stripped down, keyboard-heavy and bouncy verse with the uptempo and furious punked-out chorus. Fists and beers went flying. Trombonist Eduardo Hernandez climbed onto and soloed on the venue’s bar.

Unsurprisingly, The Caddies stole the show, but the local openers deserve some recognition. The Scratch n’ Sniffs thrashed so hard in their first song that the bassist broke a string and played the rest of his set impaired, and The Skunk 11 channeled the right amount of Less Than Jake punk combined with dance beats and carefree attitudes. 

Mrs. Skannotto took a different route and went for intricacy and dexterity. They were by far the most technically complex band to take the stage and offered the perfect soundtrack to observe the drunks in the pit spilling beer all over themselves.

Nothing’s quite as infectious as a ska show. The protracted delay between their last album and their new one has kept The Mad Caddies from extensive touring, but the fun and friendly atmosphere they provide is gravely needed. The scene’s already here, sporting an unfathomable number of caddy hats, so it’s up to bands like The Mad Caddies to bring the music and keep it going.

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The Mad Caddies bring unique brand of ska-punk to Altar Bar