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Save Ferris at Harlow's in Sacramento: Crowd Brings Singer to Tears, Music Takes Writer Down Memory Lane

Twenty years ago when Save Ferris hit the mainstream with the ska release It Means Everything, I hit play over and over on my portable boom box. Monique 'Mo' Powell was everything to me. Here was a frontwoman who had the pipes to really belt it, singing lyrics I related to (or thought I did at 13 to 14 years of age) backed by a horn and rhythm section that put me in the groove to dance. Mo was the epitome of hip in my heavily mascaraed blue eyes.

I was so enamored with the band that when I had an assignment to give an oral presentation of a poem or song that represented a certain literary style, I cracked up my teacher with a dramatic reading of "SPAM." (It's pink and it's oval. SPAM! I buy it at the mobile. SPAM! It's made in Chernobyl.) I can only guess I used the song as an example of rhyme. (I do remember I read Green Day's,"Hitchin' A Ride" for its alliteration, one of my favorite stylistic devices.)

Not long after bringing Save Ferris' masterpiece about a meat by-product to my charter school classroom, Save Ferris came to town and I was front and center at Arco Arena for one of many KWOD radio station concerts. Those concerts all kind of blend together (and I've forgotten more bands than I can remember from festivals), but I do recall the excitement of seeing Save Ferris live, even if it was just in an abbreviated, radio festival form.

My sophomore year of high school coincided with the band's sophomore release, Modified. Songs like "Turn It Up" and "Mistaken" blared daily from my bedroom walls. Save Ferris played another KWOD show, and then on one fateful day, the radio announced a performance and signing at Virgin Records. My friends and I waited hours for our chance to get up close and personal with the band. To our heartbreak, Mo had laryngitis, but we still secured signatures on the signs we made in class earlier in the day.

My binder paper sign hung proudly in my bedroom for years. The older I got, the more I related to Save Ferris songs. As I was a music reviewer, promoter and major label scout all before I could legally drink, one song in particular was my anthem: "Under 21."

The other night I tried to go to a show/But the man at the door he told me no/He said "No one under 21 allowed"/But he must've been stupid 'cause I saw my friends in the crowd/He said "You can't buy an alcoholic drink"/So we don't care what you really think /Why's this happened to me / And the show was for free/It sucks to be / Under 21

Before I was finally old enough to rock out at a 21+ show, Save Ferris called it quits. I was happy to have had my chance to see them live, but I still felt cheated out of a full Save Ferris show. I had only experienced Save Ferris live in bite-size form.

More than a decade later, social media was abuzz: Save Ferris was back! And the band (albeit a completely new lineup, besides Mo) was coming to Harlow's in Sacramento on March 24, 2017, just two weeks after I turned 33. Happy birthday to me!

On Friday night, my junior high BFF and I got right up front for an amazing performance. The band came out skanking at a 10 and kept the energy pumping the entire time. Aside from the encore, the only break came at the top of the set when the Sacramento crowd's long, loud, loving applause and whoops for the band moved Mo to tears. She eventually collected herself and danced and sang the ever-loving crap out of fan favorites.

The 22-song set list included: The World Is New, Superspy, Little Differences, Turn It Up, I'm Not Cryin' For You, What You See Is What You Get, Mistaken, I Know, and of course, Come On Eileen during the encore. The band played new songs off the recent EP release, Checkered Past, as well as a blistering cover of Operation Ivy's "Artificial Life." And lo and behold, after being requested at every show, the band finally busted out the one and the only, SPAM, for their second-to-last stop on the tour. 

Honestly, whether I'm putting on my professional music critic hat or just waving my fan club banner, Save Ferris at Harlow's in Sacramento goes down in the books as one of the best live shows I've ever seen. The band dished out the tastiest of poppy ska treats and the sold-out Sacramento crowd ate it up and sang along to near every last word. From gyrating on the mic stand to belting on bended knee, Mo commanded the room like a woman on a mission to leave everything on the stage. And while the five guys behind the strings, drums, horns and keys weren't the musicians who made the band famous, on Friday, they were Save Ferris to me.  

I may be a journalist in my 30s now, but I still want to grow up to be as cool as Ms. Monique Powell.

21+ Save Ferris at Harlow's in Sacramento Pictures 


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