For those of us OC die hards who loved ska and grrrl power, and hated being under 21, Save Ferris’s 1997 debut It Means Everything provided the soundtrack to countless bedroom sing alongs, first car drives to band practice, and probably a break up or two. But after the band’s split in 2003, it was pretty clear that those freshman year dreams of skanking the night away to “The World Is New” would never materialize. But thanks to a hot tip from a friend and DoLA.com, I had the chance to watch Save Ferris shake the rust off their checkered past with gusto – for free!
I took the train from Santa Ana to Union Station where I met up with my friend Sarah who was hot on the trail of some rare Pokémon in the parking lot. We ate vegan ice cream and hot wings at Sage, and while reminiscing about all the Christian ska bands we loved as kids, a young woman wearing an FIF sweatshirt barreled down Sunset just as “Five Iron Frenzy” crossed our lips. The ska goddess had clearly descended upon Echo Park.
We walked over to The Echo a little after 9 o’clock, and turned the corner to a mustachioed man in checkered pants smoking while leaning against the wall separating the pizza place and the club’s doors. Nearby, a group of dudes in assorted Fred Perry’s and newsboy hats chattered awkwardly around a tree, giving a taste of the ska fashion show waiting just behind The Echo’s heavy double doors. We descended into the sweaty sea of checkered ties, short dresses, and horn rimmed glasses while Scarlet And The Fever were playing their set of ska influenced mood jams. We headed straight for the bar, only to find a checker-clad man in a fedora and suspenders half-skank-half-dry-humping his rude girl date who was totally stoked. The ambiance (or shall we say, skambiance) was the intersection of late ‘90s cool nerd make out party and Groupon event in the best possible way.
While we stood in anticipation thinking of ska puns, the sound person was killing the dance floor with ska hits from Amy Winehouse, Rancid, and The Specials, nearly inciting a ska dance party before a single amplified upstroke cut through the crowd. In an awkward moment, ska was cut off and replaced with an 80’s remix pop house track, the musical version of shining a bright flashlight on a pair of dancing tweens. But within minutes, Save Ferris’s drummer jumped right into a heavy tom tom swing groove, bringing each member up one by one and building up the moment we’d been waiting for: singer Monique Powell’s triumphant return to a club stage.
Save Ferris wasted no time and opened with “Spam,” a bold choice considering it’s a fan fave and crowd pleaser that could have easily been a closer. Monique led the crowd in a sing along, showing off her vocal virtuosity and waving to fans between dancing breaks. They kept the energy high for the duration of the set, and I forgot how many hits Save Ferris actually had until they started coming, seemingly one after another.
The band was tight: upstrokes were on point, horns were heavy, and the drummer nailed that 3rd wave groove better than I’ve heard in a long time, and Monique’s vocals and range were truly incredible. Her performance was flawless and it was obvious that she was vibing off the energy of the crowd. She even had two outfit changes during the set that were worked in seamlessly, drawing lots of applause and excited commentary from members of the crowd.
She tried to win some points by repping LA and dispelling myths that she was from Orange County, just like every other OC person does when they move away. I see you grrrl. I have no idea where she’s actually from, but there is no denying that Save Ferris is a quintessentially Orange County band. Monique’s banter with the crowd was the unsung hero of the set; from her attempts to incite a giant pit, to meta laughing at her self proclaimed “Fran Drescher laugh,” and wrinkles, fans laughed and jeered like it was 1999. But even though their set was largely a big delicious bite of nostalgia, Save Ferris did not disappoint.
Songs like “World is New,” “Superspy,” and “Goodbye” were full on high-energy sing alongs. By the end of the set I decided to work my way into the small pit, dancing along with Gen Xers and other old Millennials like myself. Me and one other guy in my proximity lost our marbles when they covered Operation Ivy’s “Artificial Life,” (even leaving musical parts for Mo to shimmy) but most of the other folks in the crowd were digging their heels into The Echo floor, waiting in anticipation of Save Ferris’s radio hit cover of “Come On Eileen.” Of course there was one giant dude trying to go a little too hard (put the elbows away buddy, it’s Monday!), but within seconds of that iconic fiddle-part-turned-horn-run, the pit was taken over by women, in a glorious ska riot grrrl moment of odd perfection.
The Save Ferris show on Monday night at the Echo was pretty much everything I dreamed adulthood could be as a teen girl in the early ‘00s. Running into friends, drinking crappy beer, and weeknight skanking in vegan Doc Martins to Save Ferris sounding more flawless than they did in their heyday– seriously, a late ‘90s teen movie incarnate. If you missed Save Ferris this week, you can still catch them for free this summer with Cibo Matto at the Santa Monica Pier August 25th. They really sounded incredible and put on an amazing show. If you’re from OC ska is in your blood, and a little healthy nostalgia never hurt anyone.
World is New
Sorry My Friend
What You See Is What You Get
Do I Even Like You (Fugazi)
Turn It Up
Everything I Want To Be
I’m Not Crying For You
Artificial Life (Operation Ivy)
Come On Eileen