Voodoo Glow Skulls - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Voodoo Glow Skulls

Live in Grand Rapids (2017)

live show

I never really listened to Voodoo Glow Skulls. I didn’t have anything against them, I was just never really into ska. There were two reasons why I found myself at the VGS show at The Stache in downtown Grand Rapids on Tuesday September 5th, the day after working the entire long Labor Day weekend. First, I try to support the kind of shows I want to see booked, even if it’s not my favorite band. Second, the undercard was stacked with some of my local favorites.

Between the time this tour was booked and the time it kicked off, there was major drama in the Voodoo Glow Skulls camp. Singer and founder Frank Casillas went off the deep end and abruptly quit after a show back in June, leaving the band in the lurch. VGS decided to go forward with their commitments and recruited Efram Martin Shulz (Manic Hispanic, Death By Stereo) to fill in in vocals. I don’t believe I ever saw VGS (the 90’s can be a little hazy), so I couldn’t compare the two singers. On the plus side, they were starting with a clean slate with me.

I didn’t want to miss anything, so I was already there by the time Bet On Rats hit the stage about 7:30. Folk punk, much like ska, is not necessarily my thing, but I really like these guys. Their songs have a dark sense of humor, and an almost literary quality. Vocalist/acoustic guitarist Dan Smith has a unique voice that will grow on you. Live, the songs are delivered with a punk energy and sense of urgency. The band played mostly newer material, and I’m looking forward to hearing some new studio stuff. I had previously only seen them in DIY venues, so the improved sound quality was a definite bonus. Bet On Rats’ brisk 20 minutes set the standard for the local openers.

Up next was the hardcore collective Westside Rebellion. I’d already seen them quite a few times in 2017, and their live shows never disappoint. They actually seem to get a little sloppier every time I see them, but amazingly, it only seems to make them more compelling. Three guitars, four singers, bass, drums and PBR make for a bit of a mess. WSR tore through loose interpretations of all five songs from their wonderful debut EP, and may have even played a couple of new ones. (I’m not sure, because sometimes they cull material from the members’ other projects.) In just the last year, Westside Rebellion’s glorious and chaotic 20 minute sets have become essential listening for local punks.

The Bloody Lips are another band that in the last year has become a real mover and shaker in the local scene. The female fronted hardcore/ska band is made up of two former members of The Lippies, plus a husband and wife team. The music is harsh and propulsive. The vocals are delivered in a throat shredding scream. Singer Krystal stands on the floor in front of the stage flailing around like she might be possessed. At first the crowd gave her space, like they were afraid to get too close. Eventually they starting moshing all around her. I was waiting for the inevitable comedy of someone tripping over her mic cable, but somehow it never happened. I always enjoy seeing The Bloody Lips, and this night was no exception.

There was a time when I always showed up late for shows, hoping to miss the local openers. That’s changed as I’ve burrowed deeper into the Grand Rapids scene, and my show experience is now that much better for it. I was able to sing along to the locals, even if I’d only ever heard a handful of songs by the headliner. Bet On Rats, Westside Rebellion and The Bloody Lips ripped through their sets in record time. The show was actually running ahead of schedule, so Voodoo Glow Skulls took their time before taking the stage. It was still only 9:50 when they finally got rolling.

First the band set up and started jamming. The instruments included the standard guitar, bass and drums, as well as a saxophone and a trombone. Shulz entered from the back of the room wearing a luchador mask and waving a huge Voodoo Glow Skulls flag. They had the crowd dancing almost instantly. (Maybe not me, but I’m old. I vigorously bobbed my head.) Songs like “Voodoo Anthem”, “Shoot the Moon”, “Land of Misfit Toys”, “Charlie Brown” and “Drunk Tank” had the crowd singing along too. Earlier I admitted to never having seen Voodoo Glow Skulls, but it’s hard to imagine that Casillas was any more energetic than his replacement. Shulz never stopped moving while sharing his mic with the audience and throwing high fives.

Grand Rapids has always been a ska friendly city, as Mustard Plug is its most famous punk export. A handful of guys from that band were there, and got a shout out from the stage. There was a pretty good turnout for a Tuesday night, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. That’s the thing with ska music, it’s perfect for when you just want to have fun without thinking about the many problems in the world. VGS did occasionally get political, but never too serious. If they decide to continue on after this tour, it appears they still have plenty of gas in the tank. For those in attendance, Voodoo Glow Skulls delivered an evening of entertaining and uplifting relief and release.