Less Than Jake

Now in its 11th year, the Slam Dunk Festival continues to grow, attracting bigger and better bands and ever-larger crowds. This year was no exception, with no fewer than 46 bands playing across two main dates and three support events. Birmingham was one of these smaller gigs but still packed an impressive punch, showcasing 16 bands covering ska, punk, rock, and metal.

The day got off to a slightly disappointing start, with organisational issues at the venue meaning that most people weren’t let in until after the first bands had started their sets, but thankfully things picked up from there.

Spanning three rooms of the HMV Institute it was sometimes difficult to know where to go next, but the schedule was well organised – the start times were spread out enough that you could catch a bit of everybody, but with enough overlap that you were never waiting long for the next band to come on stage.

LYU
LYU

Things kicked off with a good mixture of local and international bands. Birmingham-based 4-piece LYU gave an impressive performance in the downstairs Library room. Aided by a small but loyal following, they soon had the room buzzing and managed to extract far more enthusiasm from the crowd than is normal at such an early stage in a gig.

Set Your Goals
Set Your Goals
Anti-Flag
Anti Flag

From that point the energy only intensified, with Set Your Goals and Hit the Lights really working the crowd, and it wasn’t long before the circle pits and crowd-surfing began. Smaller bands like All or Nothing didn’t disappoint either and, despite some sound-mixing issues in the cramped Temple room, managed to thrash out impressive sets and draw growing crowds.

All Or Nothing
All Or Nothing

After several hours of warm-ups it was time for the bigger bands to take the stage, beginning with Anti-Flag. The punks from Pittsburgh clearly had a large following on the day, and from the very start the pit went crazy to songs like The Press Corpse and Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C. In between songs they interacted well with the crowd which added to the atmosphere and set the scene for the rest of the day.

We Are The Ocean
We Are The Ocean

Essex post-hardcore rockers We Are The Ocean were up next, and were clearly a popular choice, with every inch of floor, balcony, and stairs filled with eager fans. Despite only forming four years ago and having just two full-length albums they already have an impressive collection of tracks to choose from, and played a good mix of older and newer songs.

Goldfinger
Goldfinger

Back in the main room Goldfinger were preparing to take the stage. Having been performing together for 17 years they can be considered true veterans of the ska/punk scene, but they haven’t lost any of their youthful energy, and have definitely mastered the art of engaging an audience.

Due to prior commitments, drummer Darrin Pfeiffer was unable to play, but was replaced by Rancid’s Branden Steineckert, who proved to be a more-than-worthy stand-in. Less Than Jake’s JR also joined the band to add another element to their songs.

From their entrance to the Star Wars theme, everyone was hooked, and the enthusiasm gradually reached fever pitch as they belted out classics like Spokesman, Miles Away, and Superman. A particular highlight was when they got a crowd of around 15 people onto the stage to help them perform Open Your Eyes. They finished off with an excellent rendition of the ever-popular 99 Red Balloons, leaving the audience fully pumped up for the last two bands.

The Starting Line
The Starting Line

Following on from such a huge band would be a daunting prospect for most people, but The Starting Line didn’t seem in the least bit phased. They had a very strong following, with a huge proportion of the crowd singing along to every single song, which certainly generated an electric atmosphere in the smaller Library room.

Opening with Up and Go and continuing with crowd-pleasers such as Birds and Direction they were one of the highlights of the day. Despite lead singer Kenny’s bad throat he didn’t miss a note, and also spent a lot of time chatting and joking with the audience.

Less Than Jake
Less Than Jake

Finally it was time for the headline act, Less Than Jake. With seven studio albums to choose from, as well as numerous compilations, covers, and EPs, you never know quite what you’re going to get, but
the songs they chose could hardly have been better. The entire set was made up of crowd-pleasers and show-stoppers, including Automatic, All My Best Friends Are Metalheads, History of a Boring Town, and Scott Farcas Takes it on the Chin.

As a band that’s well in tune with its fans’ preferences, they largely steered clear of their newer love-it-or-hate-it songs, although they did play one of the better ones, Conviction Notice, from their newest album GNV FLA. There was also a brief aside to play some cartoon theme covers, which drew a mixed reaction from the audience. Thankfully they soon got back to playing the songs that people love.

Less Than Jake

Anyone who has seen Less Than Jake live will know how much they love to get the audience involved in bizarre ways, and this gig was no exception. As well as starting circle pits and encouraging people to streak through the pit, the crowd were treated to beer drinking contests, topless slow-dancing between two rather rotund men, and even an on-stage marriage proposal.

Once again Less Than Jake demonstrated why they are such legends on the ska/punk world, and worthy headliners at this or any other festival. Slam Dunk Birmingham was a resounding success and is bound to grow even more popular on the back of such a great show. Roll on next year!

Slam Dunk Festival Review and Photos by Helen Williams

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