The ska craze of a few years back has gradually subsided, and no one who loves the music would call that a bad thing: now that the true believers have the scene all to themselves again, a good band has nothing to negotiate but its own creative arc. For the Slackers, a seven-man combo from Brooklyn that opens for Mustard Plug and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones on Sunday, the parade has definitely gone by: they debuted on the New York-based Moon Ska label in 1996 and were snapped up by Hellcat Records the next year, as the genre was peaking commercially, but they've never earned the big bookings commanded by Less Than Jake and the Bosstones or the critical respect accorded to Hepcat and the Toasters. For good reason: their previous two releases, The Question and Live at Ernesto's, proved that old-school, Jamaican-influenced ska could be just as dull as ska-core, that without strong songwriting even the spiciest ingredients--soul, Latin music, R & B--can end up tasting like vanilla pudding. But now that almost no one's paying attention, the Slackers have delivered Wasted Days, a funny and assured album of brisk ska and languid reggae, its stories wandering off into pensive sax-and-horn signatures (the title song), echoing dub ("Pets of the World"), Gypsy violin ("Made Up My Mind"), gooey pedal steel ("Dave's Friend"), Studio One ska ("The Nurse"), and Sam Cooke choruses ("Walking On"). This spring will mark their 11th year together, demonstrating conclusively that marketing rhythms aren't the kind that keep a ska band going. Sunday, March 18, 5:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Denny Renshaw.