On the 11thand 12th of April, Jeff Rosenstock kicked off his first tour outside the US in 4 years. Playing two nights with two different sets. First, a normal “Death Rosenstock experience”, followed by a special “Ska Dream night” – the only one on this tour. And I was there to witness it from the first row.
How do you even review a show that you have been waiting for the entire pandemic? Reviews are never objective, but some could try. However, in this case, I don’t think I can. I loved it so much and I adore Jeff’s music too much.
How do you even review two very similar shows yet totally different?
And you're probably wondering what even is a “Ska Dream Night”?
On April 20th, 2021, Jeff Rosenstock released SKA DREAM, a re-recorded version of his 2020 album NO DREAM. The twist? All the songs are now in the style of ska. All the titles are changed into references to ska music. There are horn sections added all over the place. Everything, from guitars and drums, to even vocals and song structures has been changed… to ska. And this is what the “Ska Dream Night” was all about – to play those new(er) songs live. So, here’s how it all went down.
Starting on a Monday, the first show was a “regular” one. The band started with NO TIME - the song opening NO DREAM, and smoothly transitioned into Nikes (Alt). The first two songs were enough to show exactly how the next 60+ minutes will go. The music was fast and loud, the execution was tight. Everyone on and off stage clearly was waiting for this moment for a very long time, so everyone was having a great time. The sing-alongs were loud, with seemingly everyone in the venue knowing each and every lyric that Jeff ever put down. And if all of this sounds like a massive carnage to you – it’s because it was. But all that chaos had at heart a caring and loving community. It was hard to spot an unmasked person in the venue, even though all the restrictions were lifted some time ago. Why? Because Jeff asked people to do so. People were looking out for each other and taking care. I think this is the best way to describe the vibe at those shows. Coming back to the music.
The show really started picking up massive momentum when Festival Song started playing, a beloved Jeff classic of 2016’s WORRY., and the first non-NO-DREAMsong of the evening. As it felt, the pace could not get higher and it was getting hot, Jeff took the audience for a brief intermission. The following song was 9/10, a slow-paced sing-along about everyday life. It allowed a well-needed break for catching a breath and shooting a short video for Instagram (I am not ashamed to admit it). And then the pace started picking up again, as the song did a smooth noise-rock-esque transition into You, in Weird Cities.
The show then run at the highest levels of intensity as the band stormed through most of the NO DREAM album, with some hints of WORRY. in between. The main body of the set finished off by slowing down with the two songs closing the 2020 album. And it was “the end”. But what is a rock show without an encore?
Before the band even fully left the stage, the chants for “one more tune” had started. It did not take long for Jeff and company to come back to deliver more. They started off slowly with Leave It In The Sun. Next up was Nausea, defiantly a fan favourite, where everyone was giving all the energy they had left and singing along on top of their lungs with not much happening in the pit, as the song is a rather slow one. Then it was time for the last song – the opening track to WORRY. – We Begged 2 Explode. It is another slow one, slowly building up to a massive wall of sound, gang vocals, and noise in an epic fashion, channelling a lot of emotions associated with the passing of time and life. The perfect live song. It started with Jeff taking it into the crowd and sharing the microphone with people. As the song progressed, you could feel the theatrical build-up, and everyone in the room singing as loud as they can. Concerts always have this sense of unity to them, which I love. However, very rarely you can feel it to the extent presented here. As the song ended, and the concert with it, it is hard to imagine anyone was left dissatisfied. We Begged 2 Explode in concert is one of the greatest live music moments I have witnessed. And that was day one. I left the venue smiling, ready to do it all over tomorrow.
The “Ska Dream Night” was rather similar in many aspects.
The show was based mostly around the SKA DREAM album and everything I said about sing-alongs and crowd energy carries over here. The band now featured two additional members – the brass section. The setlist was almost an identical copy, NO DREAM songs became SKA DREAM songs, while songs from other albums were swapped for something else. Hence, we got to hear p i c k i t u p – ska version of f a m e – the only NO DREAM song not played the day before. We also got COLLAPSE, a slow dancer of 2020 DUMP EP. There was also time for some WORRY. music in form of Rainbow – the only ska song on the record. Lastly, we got The Creek is Everywhere!!!, a song Jeff wrote for Cartoon Network series Craig of the Creek. The song SKrAm!featured a guest appareance of Boboso, who laid down a rap verse on this rework version of Scram. Sadly, MC Boboso could not appear in Dublin personally, so instead he performed on a big screen over the stage. Once again, the band walked off the stage after the closing tracks of the “Dream”album. And again, we didn’t have wait long for the encore. This time, it was only one song, but that song was defiantly a gem to here live. The Arrogant Sons Of Bitches were Jeff fronted ska band active in early 2000’s, and their album Three Cheers for Disappointment is highly regarded as a staple of the genre. For the encore, Jeff and the gang reached back to this album and played a fast paced, aggressive, full of gang-vocals hit – So Let’s Go Nowhere. This was one of the most intense moments of both evenings and felt unreal to hear live. The perfect closer for perfect two nights. Although as Jeff would sing in one of his songs (not played in Dublin though) – “perfect doesn’t exist”. So maybe let’s just say it was a fantastic ending to two nights of some of the greatest live music I have ever experienced. If you have a chance, go and see Jeff. The energy, emotions, and massive instrumentals are hard to match, and it is definitely a show one could love without ever hearing a song from Jeff Rosenstock.
Final verdict: 4.99/5 because “perfect does not exist”.