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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Slow Gherkin
Ska Speeders: Slow Gherkin commands the stage.

The Ska's the Limit:
Picking up speed with Slow Gherkin

WITH THE bands No Doubt and Sugar Ray fashioning an intersection of pop and Jamaican rhythms, the ska genre has taken off. Today, anybody with a crankshaft right arm and knowledge of three chords can play ska. Unfortunately, most of today's ska groups don't know the real rudeness, and their music reflects it. Santa Cruz's Slow Gherkin, however, bucks that sad trend. The group's music is pure skanking satisfaction. The 10-member megaconglomerate pleases with its machinelike pace. It may be the most precise ska band in the Bay Area.

Lounging around their van (dubbed the "Creamsickle" for its orange-and-white paint job) parked behind the Gaslighter Theater in Campbell, the members of Slow Gherkin trace their fascination with ska back four years. That's when saxophonist Phil Boutelle, bassist Zack Kent, vocalist James Rickman and guitarist A.J. Marquez met in high school. "We were excited by the occasional ska shows that came through town, like Skankin' Pickle and Bad Manners," remembers Rickman. "We were noticing this real exciting music that had people dancing instead of standing there with arms crossed or moshing. We decided to try it ourselves, and initially it sounded more like really horrible funk. We've since added people, and the band went from four to 10 members." Rickman exhales. "The story gets more and more apocryphal every time."

" 'Apocryphal,' what's that?" asks trumpeter Josh Montgomery. "Of doubtful origins," replies Rickman, an English major at UC-Berkeley. What isn't doubtful is Slow Gherkin's steady ascendance. The band recently sold out the 1,100-capacity Catalyst and is making dents in the San Jose and San Francisco markets. Slow Gherkin is touring (with the Siren Six) to promote Double Happiness, the full-length CD on Mike Park's Asian Man Records. The CD title doesn't come from Mina Shum's famous movie but from menu items at Bo Town and House of Nan King, favorite Chinese eateries for the members of the band. "There's a vague relation between the happiness we get from food and life," says Rickman. "We don't know what Double Happiness means, but just the fact it's a very emphasized happiness describes us perfect."

The July 14 show at the Gaslighter recalls the joyous scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly takes over the school dance. With Monkey and the Siren Six setting an appropriate tone, Slow Gherkin closes the show with a skintight set. The five-man horn section blasts away without amplification. Rickman, whose skinny frame belies his vocal power, dances like a marionette controlled by Iggy Pop. By the time the band reaches its encore--a chaotic version of "Hava Nagilah"--the kids in the audience are skanking frenetically in the aisles and on the seats.

The climate is good for Slow Gherkin now that the bouncy ska beat has reached the adrenal glands of high schoolers, but Rickman says, "I don't think we're doing it for any kind of trend. It's such a good format. You can write some good songs in this format. If everybody suddenly doesn't like ska, we'll still be doing it."

Playa Helping

The next Gaslighter Theater (400 E. Campbell Ave.) show features San Jose and Campbell alternative rockers Enertia and Fistful of Flowers on Thursday (July 24) at 7pm. With the lack of all-ages spaces in this valley, care must be taken not to scare the good owners of the Gaslighter, who are taking a risk in putting on shows. Respect the property and maybe more all-ages shows can happen here.

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From the July 24-30, 1997 issue of Metro.

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