Come to Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center ready to dance during May 1 event featuring veteran ska band The Pietasters
WILKES-BARRE — When high school band members leave school, many instruments that were once played on a daily basis spend a lot of time in attics and closets. Some of those instruments get to play on in college or find homes with younger relatives. Some are sold. Such was the fate of Alan Makranczy’s alto saxophone, but that doesn’t mean Makranczy was finished with music; in fact, he was just getting started.
“I’ve been playing saxophone in The Pietasters going on 23 years now,” Makranczy said. “The Pietasters asked me, they called me from Oregon and were like, ‘hey, we’re coming back around and we need a sax player,’ and I said, ‘cool, I have an alto,’ and they said, ‘cool, can you sell it and get a tenor?’ That’s pretty much what I did, and that’s what I’ve been playing ever since.”
Makranczy joined The Pietasters between the release of their 1993 self-titled debut album and their 1995 sophomore effort, “Oolooloo.” The saxophonist cited horn-heavy acts like James Brown Band and Sly and the Family Stone as musical influences, but when he described his philosophy as a musician he referenced contemporary and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett, who said the horn section of a ska band acts together as one instrument.
“It’s just like a guitar player or a keyboard player, just there’s three guys doing it and not just one,” Makranczy said. “I always like something that contributes to the band without being a stand-out soloist, ‘cause that’s not what our band is about; if anything it’s about backing Steve (Jackson, vocalist) up and stuff.”
Stephen Jackson spent his youth in the Washington D.C. underground music scene of the mid-to-late ’80s. He described it as a small, tight-knit group of alternative music fans within the bedroom community for government workers. One of the Washington scene’s most prolific venues, The 9:30 Club, only held around 250 people in its original iteration. This meant the fan bases of punk, hardcore, ska and rockabilly intertwined, so Jackson was exposed to the different genres. Which style was chosen when he decided to start a band?
“Well we tried to be a punk rock band and we realized that we were suburban kids and didn’t have a whole lot to protest against,” Jackson said. “We were drawn to sort of the party aspect of ska music and we were really into two-tone, The Specials and Madness and stuff like that… we really appreciated and identified with their over-the-top kind of partying and drinking and misbehavior and stuff like that.”
Their band evolved from a four-piece punk band as they added friends who played keyboard and trombone — instruments rarely heard in punk music. Jackson said their goal was to have a good time, and when the band plays at Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center 7:30 p.m. May 1 as part of the venue’s Live From the Chandelier Lobby concert series, they’ll take the stage hoping to do just that.
“We definitely have had a lot of fun in Wilkes-Barre,” Jackson said. “There’s an old club called The Metro, there’s River Street Jazz Cafe and Ole Tyme Charley’s, so we definitely have been through there and had a lot of good times.”
Jackson said he’s excited to see old friends and make new ones as the band tries to wear out the audience and pack in as many songs as possible. Admission to the party is $20 (or $25 at the door), and don’t forget your dancing shoes.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts