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Roddy Radiation Brings Rocksteady to Johnny V’s

In Music
SKA SOLDIER: Roddy Radiation, former frontman of English ska group The Specials comes to Johnny V’s.

SKA SOLDIER: Roddy Radiation, former frontman of English ska group The Specials comes to Johnny V’s.

Roddy “Radiation” Byers draws a lot of parallels between today’s political climate and the state of global affairs back when he was playing in The Specials. “It’s almost a mirror image now to what it was like in the late ’70s early ’80s,” says the erstwhile guitarist of the English ska and two tone outfit responsible for hits like “A Message to You Rudy.”

With racial tensions on the rise, the working class struggling to make ends meet and a political system that clearly favors the wealthy, it’s easy enough to see his point.

“Politics were a big part of our music as Margaret Thatcher was in power and there was political unrest in the U.K.,” Byers writes in an email exchange, just days before boarding a plane to the U.S. The Specials sent a clear and resonant message of unity and peace at a time when nationalist rhetoric and anti-immigrant sentiment was at a fever pitch in his home country. “Ghost Town,” a slow creeper of a song about unemployment under Thatcher, was a No. 1 hit in the U.K.

Though he remains personally plugged-in to current affairs, his songs are mostly free of heavy political content these days, focusing more on the fun and charming worlds of love and rock music.

For at least the last decade or so, ska has been something of a dirty word in American critical circles. But why, exactly, has never really been clear. In most of the rest of the world the Jamaican-derived music has never gone out of style. Even here in the U.S., the critical disdain is often arbitrary. Groups as diverse as Miike Snow, Vampire Weekend, and Kings of Leon have all landed huge hits in the post-third-wave era with what are, essentially, thinly-veiled ska songs.

But where those groups fused the upbeat rhythms with a modern pop style, the early, rootsy cultural exchange of ska and rock is what Byers aims to capture. Radiation plays a mostly clean, rhythmic guitar, singing in an earnest, unaffected style as the band rocks steady behind him.

His five-piece band, the Skabilly Rebels, combine elements tailor-made for San Jose’s scene: a sincere love for oldies-style rock—with its pompadours and leather—reggae rhythms, and a spirit that is clearly (if ephemerally) punk. In fact Radiation says he rather enjoys playing the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. “San Jose is always a blast!”

Roddy Radiation
Sat, 8pm, $12
Johnny V’s, San Jose

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