You might have heard of the old saying “ska is dead”, but after performing to a sold out crowd Friday, January 23rd at the House of Blues Cleveland, you might think differently. After 23 years and eight studio albums, Reel Big Fish is still going strong, with the brass to show it. Co-headlining with punk/ska band Less Than Jake, the 5-piece ska band donned brightly hued jackets and loud plaid stripes, mohawks and ‘staches, and launched into their set with 1996’s “Trendy” followed by “I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend Too” and “She’s Famous Now” from 1998’s Why Do They Rock So Hard?
The energy was high as lead singer Aaron Barrett, sporting black and white striped sunglasses, skanked and rock-kicked his way around stage with a matching checked guitar. Reel Big Fish’s Johnny Christmas swung his trumpet up high above his head and straddled the edge of the stage to point into the faces of the crowd as trombonist Billy Kottage threw his head back as he sang the refrains to “All I Want Is More” and “241.” Dapper bassist Derek Gibbs strummed along in his own world.
Reel Big Fish evoked the ghost of Christmas past by playing “Skank For Christmas” off of the 2014 holiday album Happy Skalidays.
During “Where Have You Been?,” saxophonist Matt Appleton (aka Saxel Rose), missed his cue on the second verse abruptly stopping the song on stage, but not in the crowd. The nearly 3,000 people continued on with the verse without the assistance of the band. Barrett called Saxel Rose out and put him in a short time out to think about what he’d done.
Nearing the end of their set, RBF performed the many versions of the playful “S.R.,” in which the song was stopped abruptly after fans had gone into a skanking fury. Barrett introduced another version by saying “And now for our next song… WHICH IS THE SAME SONG!” The crowd conformed to the versions by moshing in a circle pit, dancing to disco, square dancing and headbanging to a death metal version that may or may not have strained Barrett’s vocal chords.
After playing 1995’s “Beer,” the ska quintet finished their set with a three song encore including “Another F.U. Song,” “Sell Out,” and the highly anticipated song of the night, the cover of A-ha’s “Take On Me.”
Less Than Jake
Less Than Jake kicked off their 19-song set with “Look What Happened” from 2003’s Anthem and a confetti cannon explosion of bright yellow paper shrapnel that rained down on fans. Buddy Schaub roamed the stage pumping his trombone in air to the crowd while Roger Lima hopped around, shredding his guitar and flinging his signature dreads from side to side.
Choosing a good mixture of songs off of their eight studio albums, Less Than Jake banged their way through memorable songs like “All My Friends Are Metalheads” and “Sugar In Your Gas Tank” to which DeMakes encouraged audience participation by inviting a wife beater-clad audience member named Kyle, and a girl named Allison who danced and headbanged, and classily dry humped along to the beat. Toilet paper guns were also a fun part of the show, layering the crowd who were already caked with sweat, beer and confetti.
While filming the live version of “Overrated – Everything Is,” a slew of bright yellow balloons were released with the Less Than Jake logo for people to throw around or pop in each other’s faces. To ensure the energy was high during this song, DeMakes joked “Pretend like you’re hearing this song for the first time, like the first time you heard “The Thong Song.” Lima added “Or pretend like it’s the first time you heard that song by Disturbed… Ohhh ah ah ah ah!”
Jokes were a common piece during the show. “Rolling Stone magazine voted us as one of the 100 best looking bands over 35… and we came in at #67!,” quipped the ever-handsome lead singer Chris DeMakes.
After the band played the reminiscent “The Rest of My Life” and “Plastic Cup Politics,” they exited the stage before returning for a three song encore including “The Brightest Bulb Has Burned Out/Screws Fall,” “History of a Boring Town” and finally a major throwback to the Pac-man song that was used in a kids cereal commercial from the early 90s.
Punk band Authority Zero was the supporting act for Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake on this tour. Perched on the edge of the stage, lead singer Jason DeVore warmed up the at-capacity crowd with hard-pounding songs such as “Revolution” and “Everyday.”