Ska punk bands don’t get old; they just fuse their tours. The tunes, relentless pulverising energy and happy-go-lucky trumpets might have changed little over the years, but acts like Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish have long had cult followings on these shores. With both acts in and around the twenty years of age mark, their audiences are now home to moustachioed stage-invaders alongside the barely post-teenagers, happy to clash tongues so long as they’re in the on-stage company of a well-yielded bass guitar or two.
With Reel Big Fish having taken the lead in Belfast the previous night, it’s Less Than Jake’s turn to kick things off, lobbing all of the above in amongst their pacey guitar barrage. The set is blessed with plenty of old-school moments, with the nostalgia kicked into overdrive the moment Automatic intro “this is the oil dude Harold J Reynolds and you’re listening to Less Than Jake” belts over the PA.
Less Than Jake are comfortably the heftier offering tonight, inciting security-bothering circle pits that encompass half The Academy’s dance floor, and delivering their material at a pulsating and alluringly shambolic pace. The nods to teenage escapism still shine brightly, not least in History Of A Boring Town and Sugar In Your Gas Tank, while newer tracks like Good Enough, Landmines and Landslides and The Science Of Selling Yourself Short are a little mellower, a little less compelling but more than adequate set filler.
What’s most impressive is the commitment and energy involved. Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sell Outs dates back to 1995, yet still sees bassist Roger Manganelli and singer Chris DeMakes egging things on like they’re running through their latest hit single. This is not a game of precision: the chords form loose rhythms and the set’s laden with muddled trumpets that probably wouldn’t even consent to musical annotation. But then this genre does call itself punk; the messy, charged aesthetic and sweatbox atmosphere lacks even the lightest tinge of dated cash in: it’s every bit as pulverisingly wonderful as we remember, and Less Than Jake are nothing if not memorable.
If Less Than Jake pitch themselves on the pop-punk side of ska legends Operation Ivy, Reel Big Fish’ live show has more in common with a slightly rockier and far more cheddary version of The Specials. The influences are transparent, in fact, bought home not only in a funked-up rendition of Monkey Man, but also in the intro to a more surreal cover version: Carly Rae Jepsen’ Call Me Maybe (“we’re going to play this song in full” – they don’t) has its opening chords lifted straight from A Message To You Rudy. While The Specials had a serious message or two hidden behind the two-tone love-in, though, Reel Big Fish fall firmly into the ‘fun’ category.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. From tongue in cheek opener Everything Sucks through a hefty dose of comedy covers to odes to Beer and Selling Out, they’re a slick live machine with well-practised punch lines and on-stage ‘dance’ moves. It’s not particularly big or clever, but it would take a hardened soul not to enjoy them.
With tonight’s headliners more the skanking kind, we’re spared another round of circuitous moshing, we find ourselves swaying irresistibly through the reggae lilt of She Has A Girlfriend Now and punk-lite ode to faux-love, Where Have You Been?. There’s an air of pop-punk teenage disco: the covers are a major part of the set (Brown Eyed Girl and traditional closer Take On Me can be tagged on to those already mentioned), and anyone harbouring too much in the way of musical snobbery is unlikely to embrace the Californians. If anything they’ve aged a touch less impressively than Less Than Jake, too: this sound is very much of a time.
Let yourself go, though – ska absolutely requires it – and Reel Big Fish are the kind of act that deserve love simply for their unrelenting commitment to turning everything into the biggest teen-tinged, fun-filled, sexual-innuendo infested piece of slick musical banter you could hope for. It’s loveable, cheesy and easy, and proof positive that music doesn’t always have to be a great artistic statement to give a whole lot of pleasure.
Less Than Jake Photo Gallery
Photos: Shaun Neary