Although the group was originally instigated by guitarist Tim Armstrong and bassist Matt Freeman (both of Operation Ivy and, more recently, Rancid) as a ska-core side project, neither East Bay scene activist was involved when the Dance Hall Crashers — solidified into an energetic sextet behind delightful vocalists Elyse Rogers and Karina Deniké — made their debut with an eponymous 1990 album. That done, the band dissolved, but started up again two years later (an event their erstwhile label celebrated by repackaging Dance Hall Crashers with some added tracks as 1989-1992), and was thus well-positioned to benefit from the sudden attention focused on their backyard as ground zero of the Green Day dookie-bomb. Green Day’s former managers signed the group to their new label, and Dance Hall Crashers responded with Lockjaw, a marvelous surge of mature and catchy power pop accented with punk juice and set — almost incidentally — to a breathless bluebeat. Although “Sticky” (a devastatingly sardonic observation of putting up with a treacherous boyfriend: “Pull the knife out of my back/Clean the blade and put it back”) rips off the control, the band mostly keeps itself in check to favor great songs like “Shelley,” “Buried Alive” (another long-suffering romantic lament), “Queen for a Day” (a suspicious view of the record industry), the ambivalent “Go” and the landlord kiss-off, “So Sue Us.” As joyous and witty as any new wave pop classic, Lockjaw is the much-needed skanking soundtrack of 1995, a consciously un-nostalgic treat that will still send you digging for those old Blondie and Madness records.
See also: Rancid