Gig Review and Photography by Helen Williams

Reel Big Fish

It’s a dark and stormy night in Birmingham, but not even the weather is going to put a dampener on this evening’s ska-nival at the O2 Academy. It’s every ska-punk fan’s dream come true: a double billing of ska behemoths Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake, with stellar support in the form of Zebrahead. Unsurprisingly, it’s a sold out gig and it’s not long before the place is buzzing ready for the first act of the night.

Ryland Steen

In a last minute addition to the set, Ryland Steen takes a step forward from his usual place behind the drums for Reel Big Fish, and gives us a taster of his own solo venture. It’s just him on his acoustic guitar, and he explains in between songs that he would normally have the backing of a full band, but even in their stripped down form they’re not lacking in energy. He’s a great warm-up for the night ahead and gives us a string of punchy tunes.

Zebrahead

Next up is Zebrahead, Reel Big Fish’s Californian neighbours, who specialise in vigorous punk anthems blended with hip-hop and rap.

Zebrahead

Matty provides us with melodic pop-punk choruses, but it’s co-vocalist Ali who commands the stage. When he asks the 3,000 strong audience to sit on the floor and jump up on command I’m amazed to see that everyone (bar one very angry looking man) do just that – no mean feat for a support act to achieve, but Zebrahead aren’t your ordinary support.

Zebrahead
Zebrahead

They play a good mixture of old songs such as ‘Postcards From Hell’ and ‘Rescue Me’, and newer material; ‘Sirens’, ‘Call Your Friends’, and ‘I’m Just Here for the Free Beer’. There’s a good rapport between songs too, and they bring on a couple of ‘Germans’ (complete with lederhosen) to help them perform ‘Drink, Drink my Germans’. As their finale, they welcome the Reel Big Fish horn section on stage to help them perform ‘Anthem’, which serves as a taster for the night to come.

Less Than Jake

As part of their co-headline tour, Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake are taking it in turns to be the final act, and tonight it’s Less Than Jake’s turn to play second fiddle, so they’re up next. They enter to the intro of Baba O’Riley by The Who and launch straight into new song, ‘Good Enough’, quickly followed by old classic, ‘Automatic’.

Less Than Jake

As with most bands, there’s always somewhat of a balancing act to promote their new material and keep the fans happy with their older tracks. The older songs inevitably get a better reaction than the newer ones and Chris points out that ‘if we’d written this in 1998 you’d love it!’  before playing ‘My Money is on the Long Shot’, from their latest album, ‘See The Light’.

Less Than Jake

They know how to keep us happy though, and pack in plenty of old material, including some unusual setlist appearances from ‘Great American Sharpshooter’ and ‘Scott Farcas’. There are also plenty of old favourites in the form of ‘History of a Boring Town’, ‘Doug Hastings’, ‘Dopeman’, and ‘Johnny Quest’.

Newer songs ‘Landmines and Landslides’, ‘Do the Math’, and an acoustic version of ‘The Rest of my Life’ receive a good reaction from portions of the crowd, but it’s the introductions to ‘Look What Happened’ and ‘All My Best Friends are Metalheads’ that immediately electrify the room and get everybody singing.

Less Than Jake

As always, Chris and Roger have plenty of banter between songs and they break up the music (a little too much for my liking) by pulling several fans on stage to compete for a ‘full bottle of Jack Daniels’ (a miniature, that is) by taking part in a dance off.

They finish the set with ‘Plastic Cup Politics’ followed by their bouncing hometown anthem, and most famous song, ‘Gainesville Rock City’ which gets the biggest reaction of the night, especially after confetti starts to fall from the ceiling.

While the atmosphere for Less Than Jake is amazing, I get the sense that some people in the audience (namely the ones wearing brightly coloured Hawaiian shirts) are biding their time for the final act of the night, and after a quick change over on stage, Reel Big Fish enter to the Superman Theme.

Reel Big Fish

Veterans of the ska-punk scene, Reel Big Fish prove themselves to still be brilliant showmen almost 20 years into their careers and bounce around the stage with seemingly endless energy.

Reel Big Fish

Their setlist is expertly compiled for maximum effect: newer songs ‘Hiding in my Headphones’ and ‘Everyone Else is an Asshole’ sit perfectly alongside old favourites ‘Sell Out’ and ‘Good Time’, and even an unexpected cover of ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepsen.

Reel Big Fish

As with Less Than Jake, Aaron apprehensively announces new material with the warning: ‘These are the four worst words a band can say to their fans: Here’s a new song’. But the formula they’re using still seems to be working well – a combination of upbeat ska-punk and downright plain-speaking, sometimes juvenile lyrics. You can never accuse Reel Big Fish of being too deep with songs like ‘Everything Sucks’, ‘Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em)’, and ‘I Know You Too Well to Like You Anymore’.

Reel Big Fish

The band leave the stage only to be coaxed back for a cheeky, after-curfew, encore. First they play ‘S.R.’ in five different genres (Ska, Punk, 70s Funk, Country, and Death Metal) followed by classic ‘Beer’ and their famous Ah-Ha cover, ‘Take On Me’. If you’ve never heard this, give it a try, you’ll never want to listen it without the horn section again.

Reel Big Fish

Both headliners demonstrated that they are masters of live performance and why they are still so popular on the scene. In a market so flooded with middle-of-the-road artists it’s great to see that there’s still a healthy following of a genre like ska. There’s no pretence. It’s pure, unbridled fun.

Reel Big Fish
Reel Big Fish

(See the complete photo set on our Flick page)

Leave a Reply