by Jeremy Johnson
The appeal of ska music is pretty direct: it bundles the boisterous energy of punk with pop’s melodic sensibility, and then throws in horns. Lots and lots of horns.
Pittsburg’s Zero 2 Panic understand this formula very well. They write bright, upbeat, catchy punk songs that simultaneously knock you flat and have you humming along, and they hit hard with a three-pronged horn assault–Chris Goddard’s trombone, Lewis Hundley’s saxophone, and Forest Sweptston’s trumpet. The horns add punch to the music, but they also heighten the sense of melody, which is key to the formula’s success.
Here’s what a typical songs goes like: “Let the Ashes Fall” begins with a dirty trombone solo, then kicks off at a sprint. In addition to the horn solos, it features some absolutely blistering guitar gymnastics from Cody Johnson, and a head-bobbing, locked-in groove from bassist Jason Kermashek and drummer Andy Bishir that gives rise to a steady crowd of dancers. The whole thing closes with a gigantic rhythm breakdown with everyone playing in step, and the entire crowd is either nodding or fist-pumping along, a sure sign the band knows what they’re doing.
True to ska’s punk roots, nearly everyone in the band shares vocal duties, and what a variety there is. There’s lead guitarist Cody Johnson’s croon, trumpeter Forest Swepston’s barking shouts, and trombonist Chris Goddard’s demented rapping–and sometimes all the styles show up in a single song, as in the relentless, surging “Megatron.” And, naturally, there’s a good deal of crowd-shouted choruses. It’s all totally unhinged, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in it. Plus, these guys have been on Pittsburg’s music scene for a while, so plenty of people from the audience joined in, which is perfectly appropriate for what Zero 2 Panic does–if you’re not engaged, you’re not doing it properly.