With pop culture's recent obsession with all things '80s (Ronald Reagan, legwarmers, the Smiths), cultural immediacy has taken a back seat to nostalgia, and the Crazy 8's are getting in on the action.
Portland's funk-laden ska eight-piece is re-releasing its 1984 debut, Law & Order, with bonus tracks, and they're celebrating at a Saturday show filled with blasting horn parts, dipping bass lines and the huge local fan base the band cultivated 20 years ago.
"It's going to be more than just the band getting back together," says Marc Baker, the band's manager. "It's the crew and the fans getting back together."
The Crazy 8's formed at Oregon State University in 1982, when members of a jazz group called the Cheeks wanted to do something different. They became the Crazy 8's and within the year were opening for the English Beat in Eugene, where, Baker says, they picked up the unwanted ska tag.
The band's denial of being ska is natural. Many of the members were trained jazz musicians, and ska was perceived by many as a silly derivative of funk. It's hard to deny that the 8's are ska, though. They have the requisite horn section, the funked-up bass lines and the guitar upstrokes. But unlike many of their counterparts, the 8's weren't fleetingly silly. They did have a sense of humor (the band's greatest-hits album is called Still Crazy After All These Beers), but leadman Todd Duncan sang songs with a political and social depth that often bordered on menacing. The band's music has more in common with the edge of the Clash (with whom they played) than the antics of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (with whom they also played).
While Baker claims the band isn't overtly political, Law & Order reeks of subversive thought, from the title track to the cover illustration of a befuddled and dangerous looking Ronald Reagan by Oregonian political cartoonist Jack Ohman.
The breakout hit for the band was "Johnny Q," a song written by trombonist Tim Tubb that launched the self-made band to international recognition. The song is a one-two punch with an instantly recognizable horn part and a theme of the individual's struggle in a world of political and media manipulation.
"I don't know what's going on, the TV news has got me confused," sings Duncan. Then later he adds, "It's hard to tell the good from the bad when they're both wearing camouflage green jeans."
The 8's ability to sing these songs to a younger generation and strike a chord is a testament that the music they made before they broke up in 1994 was something unique. It's also a sign that the '80s, for good or ill, may never leave us.
The Crazy 8's play Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave., 224-2038. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. A donation of two cans of food for the Oregon Food Bank is also requested. 21+.