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Live Review + Photos: Reel Big Fish + Less Than Jake 2015

Less Than Jake / Reel Big Fish / The Bennies
Max Watt’s, Sydney 02/10/2015
Review: Chris Neill | Photos: Peter Zaluzny

“I’m going to a Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake concert” is a really weird phrase to say in 2015, but no one really seemed to mind as punters packed Max Watt’s for the sold out co-headlining show last Friday. And I know there’s a good chance you’re thinking, “Why the hell would you go to a ska-punk show?” so I offer this counterpoint: It was actually pretty awesome.

It’s a fair call to say both headlining acts hit their peak in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, which was made more obvious by the crowd being mostly compromised of people ranging from their mid-20s up to their late-30s (although, we’ll admit there were a surprising amount of younger fans in attendance). There were also a lot of Hawaiian shirts. A lot of Hawaiian shirts.

The room was pretty packed by the time Melbourne punks and party demi-gods The Bennies took to the stage, with frontman Anty rocking a choice pair of weed-print tights. As far as warming up the crowd went, the four-piece started at a 10 and refused to let off, smashing through tracks like “Anywhere You Wanna Go” and “My Bike”. Ending on the killer “High Rider”, a small mosh formed with an impressive portion of the crowd singing along throughout the set. We’re calling it now that it won’t be long before we see the boys pulling off a Max Watt’s headline set of their own.

With the room still riding high off the energy oft The Bennies’ set, Reel Big Fish finally took to the stage performing a brief snippet of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” before jumping into “Everyone Else Is An Asshole”. If you’ve seen them play live before, or even just heard a live recording, you know that an RBF show is one-part ska gig, one-part comedy routine. When he wasn’t singing, spinning around on the stage like a Hawaiian-print top, or chugging a beer, frontman Aaron Barrett was cracking wise: “Every band should have one very good looking person. Thankfully, we have six!” When introducing “I Know You Too Well To Like You Anymore”, which had saxophonist Saxel Rose singing the part usually done by a woman, Barrett noted that it was “a duet between two dudes… kind of like every Less Than Jake song!” During the hornless “Where Have You Been?” we were treated to a Three Stooges-esque break-up routine performed by the band’s horn section.

Even when they finally announced that they were going to play us a popular song from the 1990s, they started a very tongue-in-cheek cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” before busting out their big hit, “Sell Out.” The crowd then proceeded to lose their shit, and refused to calm down as they followed up with the fan-favourite “Beer” (which also segued into a cover of The Offspring’s “Self Esteem” mid-song, Barrett noting, “It’s the same damn song! Don’t act like you didn’t notice!”). They completed the circle of ska covers of ‘80s hits by closing out their set with A-ha’s “Take On Me”, but if the cheering mass of fans were anything to go by, they easily could have continued for another hour.

Entering the stage to the score of the 20th Century Fox theme, Gainesville’s Less Than Jake wasted no time in cranking out some serious ska-punk tunes. While the crowd wavered upon hearing tracks from the band’s most recent record, See The Light, anything from Hello Rockview (1998) or Anthem (2003) was met with overwhelming hype, particularly classics like “The Ghost Of You And Me” and “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads”. They could’ve dropped their vocals during “The Science Of Selling Yourself Short” and the crowd would have successfully seen things through.

Not to be out-done by RBF’s stage antics, they organised two giant conga lines during “How’s My Driving” and unleashed an army of balloons into the crowd, with bassist/singer Roger Lima ordering fans to stab the latter when they didn’t pop after three songs. There was also a brief intermission, in which a yawning member of the crowd was brought on stage (the “fifth member” of The Bennies) and then challenged to a beer-drinking contest by his uncle Pete Porker of Newcastle ska outfit The Porkers (Pete won).

Less Than Jake’s punk leanings led to considerably more crowdsurfing and a huge circle pit, and they closed out the show with “Look What Happened”, where a bra was flung on stage (“This is a sweaty pair of tits!”), before returning for an encore of “History Of A Boring Town” and “Gainesville Rock City”.

It’s hard to not compare Less Than Jake’s set to Reel Big Fish, especially when they were following such an upbeat and all-around fun set. That’s not to say LTJ’s set was bad, it was just comparatively lacking. Alternating headline shows sometimes run into the obstacle of one band being more enjoyable than the other, and unfortunately that was the case here. Regardless, if the hoard of sweaty, red-faced fans leaving the venue was any indication, they were definitely there to party down with two of ska-punk’s best offerings and not just for the kitschy nostalgia factor.

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