Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Return Of Urban Blight! - 80's NYC Funky Reggae Ska Band Reunite For One Night

Urban Blight are back! The original 7-piece funky ska/reggae band from New York City are reuniting to perform for one night at Webster Hall in New York City on Sunday May 22nd as part of a benefit to support the Children's Museum of the Arts. The show is being hosted by Adam 'Ad-Rock' Horowitz of the Beastie Boys. It will be Urban Blight's first show since they played a one-off to celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2008 and only their second show since the band stopped playing in 1998.

By late 1986 and 1987 what is now considered the core of the old school New York ska scene had quickly coalesced. Urban Blight along with The A-Kings, The Boilers, The Toasters, Second Step and Beat Brigade helped to create one of the most vibrant, creative and important ska scenes in the U.S. which in turn helped to galvanize scenes across the country. Urban Blight were unique in that the band had formed when many of the members were still in elementary school in the early 1970's and went on to become one of the most popular live bands in all of New York City throughout the 80's and early 90's.

I was always intrigued by Urban Blight and was a huge fan of their 'From The Westside To The Eastside' album (and their contribution to the NY Beat: Hit & Run compilation -- 'Escape From Reality' -- may be one of the best songs on the compilation) . While they were considered a part of the New York ska scene, they were also separate from it. They certainly incorporated elements of ska into their sound, but they also brought in more funk, jazz, pop and RnB than their NYC ska contemporaries and they sought to blaze their own trail which took them very close to being signed to a major label record deal. Sadly that opportunity eluded them. Nevertheless, their horn section was considered one of the best in New York City and they featured on several early Beastie Boys LPs including 'License To Ill' (hence the connection with Horowitz above).

My first introduction to Urban Blight was when I saw them open for UB40 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City in March of 1984. I was immediately struck by the fact that the singer was playing the drums and that he was at the front of the stage. Next I was amazed at the pure energy and musicianship on display. What was even better was the band really seemed to be enjoying themselves. The fact that they were friends was clearly evident. This was a band who trusted one another and the performed like a well oiled machine. The crowd was behind the hometown boys and they gave UB40 a run for their money.

Urban Blight headlined all the major clubs in NYC, regularly played throughout the Northeast and did well-received U.S and European tours. Winners of the WLIR-FM and K-Rock battles of the bands, and recipients of a New York Music Award, Urban Blight shared bills with dozens of groups including national headliners like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, UB40, Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper and Kid Creole.

According to an interview that bassist Wyatt Sprague did with the New York Daily News in 1995, Urban Blight had its origins in a band he started with elementary school classmate Keene Carse called Black Lightning. "We were the only 12-year-old band playing originals," he said. They were stars of block parties and regulars in their school auditorium. They spent one weekend being driven around the city, helping draw audiences for 1972 U.S. Presidential candidate George McGovern. "We'd get paid, maybe $50, and our parents were the roadies," he said.

Most of the band members, went to Stuyvesant High School and then New York University from which they based themselves in their early years. Weekday nights, Urban Blight rehearsed. According to the New York Daily News article, they weren't like other local bands whose members played in a number of groups or chased studio jobs. "Urban Blight," Sprague said, "we were obsessed by it, like a religion. We thought if we kept at it we'd get what we deserved."

All proceeds raised at the show will support the expansion of the Children's Museum of the Art's free programs for young artists in New York City, including building a new home for the museum in downtown New York City opening in Fall 2011. For more information visit the Facebook page the band has created for the show.

Below is the band's video for the song 'Tall N Lonely Buildings' and a few videos of the band performing at their 30th anniversary back in 2008:


Lawless said...

cool - just picked up their "A Nite Out" 12" (Sleeping Bag Records, 1983) the other day at Amoeba! Sounds like a very cool benefit!

MAJ K said...

This was a great article.

Had a great time at the concert. Here's my blog post and videos of it:

Anonymous said...

So sorry I missed this. Loved Urban Blight. Great memories NYC!!

Unknown said...

I totally wish Urban Blight would have another reunion!!! Used to go see them in NYC and up in Vermont. They played at our senior week. Such great music. Have it downloaded on my phone!!!

Anonymous said...

Yo Old Friends, Fast Eddie here. Thanks for everything ☮️