A low murmur fills the room as people find their seats. The lights dim and the stage becomes illuminated. Eleven members dressed in matching suits and dresses saunter to the mics. In a matter of seconds the silence is cut by an eruption of horns, tambourines, and a grooving rhythm section. The singer’s voice sails over the melody as the backup singers dance in sequence.
No, this isn’t the 1960s’ or 1970’s. It’s The Inciters, Santa Cruz’s premier Northern Soul act. Fresh off a European tour, the synchronized and stylish band returns to the Rio Theatre on November 18 on the heels of their new album, Bring Back The Weekend.
“We’re definitely a live band and we wanted to capture that energy,” explains founding member and trumpeter, Rick Kendrick.
“And everybody that’s listened to it has said we succeeded.”
Ok, it’s almost a given fact that every musician will say their latest work is their best. However, Kendrick and crew absolutely nailed their live act on this album, giving it a much fuller sound than previous recordings. The album defies anyone listening not to dance, wiggle their booty in their seat or–at the very least–tap a foot along to the rhythm.
Tracks like “Waiting By the Phone,” “Boot N Soul,” and “We Gave It a Good Run” sound as if the listener is the twelfth member in the room. It all kicks off with the album’s title track, which starts softly but grows to a crescendo giving the audience a taste of what’s to come in the following half hour.
“‘Bring Back the Weekend’ really gets me,” Kendrick says.
Originally founded in 1995, The Inciters of 28 years ago was a completely different band than today, literally. While they did play Northern Soul–a style of music and culture that grew out of 1970’s England heavily influenced by lesser known artists that didn’t get the same airplay as those on Motown or Stax records–Kendrick is the only remaining original member. That version broke up after a decade but in 2009 Kendrick decided to bring the group out of retirement.
Since their return The Inciters have only put out one album, 2013’s Soul Clap. But not for a lack of trying.
“We were going to [record] but then Covid happened,” he says. “So that threw it back a couple years but we decided ‘No more, we’re going to record.’”
The latest album also marks their first on Pirates Press Records–the much hailed punk label based out of Emeryville. Kendrick has known the label’s owner, Eric “Skippy” Mueller, for years and unsuccessfully tried to get the label to sign the band. At that time Pirates Press was strictly a punk label but for the last four years they have expanded their galley to include the soul and reggae sounds of The Aggrolites and rocksteady ska acts like The Slackers. With the new album finished, Kendrick knew the time had come and gave a copy to a friend to give to Mueller.
“And the next day I heard back and [Mueller] said, ‘You did it! I’ll take it,” laughs Kendrick.
Surprisingly, The Inciters won’t be the headlining band at their own record release party.
That’s because they’re opening for Roddy Radiation Byers and The Skabilly Rebels. Just as the name implies, The Skabilly Rebels combine all the flavors of ska with the straightforward sensibilities of rockabilly for some decisively catchy tunes.
Then again, Byers knows a thing or two about writing infectious earworms.
Afterall, as a founding member of the British two-tone ska band, The Specials, Byers left a huge impact on the punk, ska and mod scenes on both sides of the pond.
For those not familiar, two-tone is considered the second wave of ska that started around the late 1970s in England. Taking its name from the Two-Tone Records label founded by fellow Specials’ member, Jerry Dammers, it combined the punk rock attitude with Jamaican ska, rocksteady, reggae and even some New Wave as well. But what set it apart was its vehement anti-racist foundation.
“In the UK the Right Wing was on the rise again with The National Front and the British Movement,” Byers writes GT in an email.
“Two Tone was a way of offering the youth an alternative. Also the Rock against Racism Movement were organizing shows and festivals.”
He wrote some of The Specials’ most famous hits like “Concrete Jungle,” “Rat Race” and “Hey, Little Rich Girl.” The latter of which gained new life for modern audiences when the late Amy Winehouse covered it on her critically acclaimed and five time Grammy Award winning album, Back To Black.
“Personally, The Specials are my desert island band,” Kendrick admits. “If I had to listen to one record for the rest of my life it would be that first Specials album.”
Doubling-down on that claim, The Inciters covered The Specials’ seminal tune, “A Message To You Rudy” on their recent European tour. The proverbial cherry on top–or in this case pork pie hat–is Byers will join them on stage for that song at the show (and maybe, hopefully, one or two more, mod gods willing).
Along with the two acclaimed acts, ticket holders will also have the option to stick around after for a special presentation. While we can’t say what it is here, anyone with even the slightest idea of how Google works will be able to find it.
It looks to be one unforgettable night for an affordable ticket price. All you need to do is pick it up, pick it up, pick it up.
The Inciters w/Roddy Radiation & The Skabilly Rebels, Saturday, Rio Theatre
$25 advance/$35door/Doors 7pm/Show 8pm