Track by Track: Big D and the Kids Table’s “How It Goes”

This Saturday, I get see my favorite album of all time performed live in its entirety in my hometown of Boston.

How it Goes by Big D and the Kids Table means a lot to me. They aren’t my favorite band (though they’re forever in my top three), but this album is, without question, my favorite ever recorded by any artist. I’m not saying it’s the best or the greatest or you’re wrong for not liking it, I’m saying for what I look for in music, for what makes me happy, and for what it means to me personally, this album has it all.

The album kicks off with “The Sounds of Allston Village,” an instrumental pure ska tune with some fun organs and soothing oohs and ahs by Mariam Marz. It’s a groovy jam that gets you ready for what’s to come: an album that hits every emotion and takes you everywhere.

Things really get started with the second track, “LAX.” This is one of the band’s most iconic songs and, while flawlessly opening this record, also acts as a perfect show closer. Fast, angry, and somehow still exciting even when it crosses the five minute mark, this profanity-laden song compares the ritzy, snooty life of privileged kids in LA with the gritty, working class lifestyle of the band in Boston. It’s a song that perfectly describes the band, their struggles, and that even through it all, they have fun and do what they love.

Up next are “New Nail Bed” and “If We Want To,” two slice of life songs that just make you feel like you’re living in Boston, working hard and slaving away to get by. I can see the streets of Boston and feel that life being painted by these tunes as the bouncy ska verses and fast punk choruses keep you dancing.

“Flashlight” is a delightful tune with a bridge that builds and builds up to a badass breakdown with some outstanding horns and guitar playing off each other. The album speeds up further, as “Girls Against Drunk Bitches” is one of the fastest and angriest songs on the album. It’s the type of song circle pits are meant for. Mariam Marz’s vocals in the second verse are incredible, as she matches the unique intonation of lead singer Dave McWane and complements him perfectly for the remainder of the song.

The album bounces right back into fun ska territory with “You Lost, You’re Crazy.” The song is just so springy and fun, and is over before you know it. An old-timey Pabst Blue Ribbon ad bridges this song into the next, “Bender,” a dancey ska tune about drinking yourself into oblivion. This song is even more fun live, as the band encourages you to shout “DRUNK!” right back at them every time the word is uttered. A great tune for friendly skank pits, and a lovely way to slow down for the next song.

“Safe Haven” is not just a beautiful song, but it proves how much thought was put into creating a smooth flow throughout the album. A record as long as this one without any sort of structure to it would be a nightmare, but How it Goes is expertly crafted. The album starts strong and fast, climaxing with the almost hardcore “Girls Against Drunk Bitches,” before gradually slowing down to this pleasant tune with chill-inducing accompanying vocals, once again by Marz. It feels like a precursor to their outstanding latter day work with the Doped Up Dollies, but within the context of the album, it’s such a magical way to recollect yourself for the second half.

“You’re Me Now” and “Voice Alone” are two darker songs as the album ramps back up, relatively new territory for Big D at the time and a style they would occasionally revisit in later albums (“Snakebite,” “My Thoughts Take Me Away”). These tunes take their time, particularly “Voice Alone,” and help bring the album back up to speed with the next song.

And that song is my personal favorite and a highlight of the album for sure. “My Girlfriend’s on Drugs” is everything ska punk music should be. The intro excitedly builds until it smashes you in the face with a wall of horns and never letting up the fast paced excitement. Ska punk music is about having fun, and it doesn’t get more fun than singing about an insane, drug-riddled girlfriend and the bonkers things she does on various pills and powders. Hillary Wyon does a great job of providing hype vocals to accompany the outlandish lyrics, culminating with the now iconic line of “I’m a daisy” that leads into another hard and fast chorus. The song never quits, never ceases to be a blast, and is an absolute smash to dance to at live shows.

The album continues on with “President,” a great tune with a horn line taking cues from “Hail to the Chief.” Considering this album came out in 2004, and the chorus repeats “you’re full of shit” and “guilty” at President Bush, it is very much a song of its time and yet, considering the nature of politics, will never exactly go out of style. “Cutshow” is another great ska punk tune that keeps up the pace of the album going before making way for what’s considered the third and final of Big D’s three defining tunes on this album.

“Little Bitch” does what all bands should do with covers: they take the original, in this case a classic song by the Specials, and completely make it their own. This song will never, ever, ever get old. I’ve listened to it on loop without ever tiring of it. Short, fast, and fun, this one will always get the crowd moving at live shows, with everybody’s hands up in the air for every utterance of “one two!”

And on top of being an amazing song, it’s become central to the greater Big D canon, as for YEARS the band would record one-shot music videos of Dave McWane at a table, singing the song, as he and a rotating group of guests would chug beer and act wild. The band now has over a dozen of these, featuring guests that range from friends to bands they toured with to simply whoever was in reach. “Little Bitch” was already a ska classic with the Specials, but Big D turned it into an institution.

“Little Bitch” is the climax that leads to a lovely, slow-paced fadeout, starting with “(We All Have to) Burn Something.” I’ll always have a soft spot for this song, because I remember it being the first selection I heard off this album before it came out. Big D played it at a show in 2003 to hype the album up, and it always stuck with me. But it’s a great song in its own right. Slowing it down for the remainder of the album, this is a great tune about how things will always go wrong and we just have to take it with a smile.

The album continues its slow fadeout with three great, relaxing jams that play the record out. “175” is a song about friendship, hanging out on a lazy day, and playing Frisbee with your pals. “Chicago” is an all-too-relatable song about unmet potential and relentless ambition. Some of us try so hard but never get what we want, but we never give up. These songs don’t devolve into fast-paced madness or make you want to jump around. Instead, they let you catch your breath and collect yourself as the album closes out.

And nothing does that better than the title track. “How it Goes” is an almost six minute instrumental that still manages to say so much. The way the horns lazily serenade you, the guitar plucks along and the bass casually strolls right there with you – close your eyes and you’ll feel like you’re right on the album’s cover with the band, hanging out on a Boston stoop. You kick back, you reflect, you watch life just happen. This world around you, the whole thing, good and bad, is how it goes.

This epic 76 minute album finally comes to a close with “A Moment without an End.” As someone with over a decade of memories of seeing Big D and other bands with my closest friends, friends I’ve been through it all with, this song will always hit close in the warmest way possible. When you’re together with your pals, especially listening to a band as likable and relatable as Big D, you truly don’t want that moment to end. Every time I’ve seen Big D, every time they’ve informed us they’re playing their last song of the night, I wished that moment would never end. Just me, my pals, dancing with a few hundred others, enjoying this band that’s made us all so happy. Feeling the music, the atmosphere, the positivity, watching these hard-working musicians play songs they crafted with love and care, knowing it’s all about to be over, that we have to return to our homes, return to work, return to the nonsense of everyday life – who WOULD want that moment to end?

How it Goes is my favorite album. It’s not by my favorite band, and it doesn’t even include my favorite song by them (that goes to “Noise Complaint” off their next album, Strictly Rude), but it does everything I want a ska punk album to do. There are times when it’s fast and loud, times where it’s fun and dancey, and there are times when they slow it down and get real. It hits all of those incredible notes while being stylistically consistent. It clocks in at 76 minutes without overstaying its welcome. And most importantly, it warms my heart every time I hear it.

“This album has meant the world to me”

For me, nothing could be more exciting than seeing this band play my all-time favorite album in its entirety on stage. This album has meant the world to me. It got me through a very formative time in my life, the first year after high school when everything changes. When I hear certain songs it instantly puts me back on the T at 6am as I groggily struggle to get to class at MassArt. It puts me in the car with my friends as we feel like real adults traveling across New England to go to shows. It puts me on the streets of Boston as a teenager trying to figure life out. It spoke to me then, and it speaks to me now. Whether you’re young or old, everybody can relate to this album’s themes of struggling, of figuring it out, of getting whatever pleasure you can out of the difficulty of life. I owe a lot of who I am to this one album because it was there for me in a very real, very personal way that I still feel.

Celebrating 20 years as a band this Saturday, Big D and the Kids Table have lived the dream through so much hardship. They’ve seen it all – robberies, financial struggles, failures, even cancer – and came out on top. They’ve sacrificed everything for two decades, lost jobs and relationships, all for their art and the fans who support them. They’ve toured the world, shared the stage with their heroes, and most importantly, they love what they do. They continue to innovate and experiment. They challenge themselves as musicians and try new things while still satisfying their long-time fans. They are everything a band should be and so much more.

Thank you, Big D and the Kids Table, for an incredible 20 years. And thank you for an album that will stick with me and many others forever.

See Big D and the Kids Table perform “How It Goes” in its entirety Saturday, April 16 at the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge.