June 24, 2015 Less Than Jake & Reel Big Fish Bring Party to The Paramount Huntington, NY 6-15-15 w/ Ballyhoo!
Florida’s Less Than Jake and California’s Reel Big Fish have been carrying the party/Ska torch for twenty years, having both released their debut albums in 1995 with Everything Sucks and Pezcore respectively. Hitting the scene at the perfect time when bands like No Doubt, Sublime, and Sugar Ray were at the height of their popularity, both Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish have proven they are still vital to the music scene all these years later. Like the aforementioned acts, Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish incorporated other styles, but the sound was based on predecessors like The Specials and Madness. Heavy horns and upbeat, fast-tempo songs about broken hearts and partying were the dominate theme.
Releasing their eighth studio album, See the Light, in 2013, Less Than Jake have been as active as ever. Sustaining a variety of changes, the band boasts two original members in Chris DeMakes (vocals/guitar) and Vinnie Fiorello (drums). They are joined by Roger Lima (bass), Buddy Schaub (trombone), and Peter Wasilewski (saxophone). On the other hand, Reel Big Fish last released a studio album in 2012, entitled Candy Coated Fury, and of course their 2014 holiday EP Happy Skalidays. Also seeing members come and go, Reel Big Fish’s current lineup consisting of only one original member, Aaron Barrett (lead vocals and guitar) along with John Christianson (trumpet), Derek Gibbs (bass), Matt Appleton (saxophone), Billy Kottage (trombone), and Ed Larsen (drums). Now in the late Spring of 2015, the two juggernauts team up for a co-headlining North American tour that began in May and winds down at the end of June. Originally the tour was scheduled to play NYC back on January 27th, but due to a snowstorm, the show was re-scheduled for June 22nd. Much to delight of The Big Apple’s neighbor to the East, an additional Long Island date was added for Monday June 15th at The Paramount down in Huntington. Greeted by an enthusiastic group of long-time fans, the three bill line-up of Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, and Ballyhoo was just the right medicine for the Monday blues.
Opening the show was Maryland’s Ballyhoo!. Featuring Howie Spangler (guitar and vocals), Donald Spangler (drums), Scott Vandrey (keys, effects), and Nick Lucera (bass), Ballyhoo brought their aggressive blend of Punk, Reggae, and Rock and Roll to The Paramount and proved to be the perfect primer. “Battle Cry” started their set with a classic Surf Rock riff over propulsive drumming and immediately broke down into a Rock-Reggae groove with the Surf sound coming back in the breaks between the verses. “Evil Penguin” followed with another crisp take on electrified, danceable Reggae. “Mixtape” found the band taking it down a notch for a slowed down jam that incorporated some blistering solos from Howie as the band’s Classic Rock influences were on full display. Set closer “Cerveza” got the crowd jumping up and down in unison with the band as they name-dropped themselves throughout the anthematic sing-along.
Next, Reel Big Fish took the stage like they almost always do, playing a horn-based instrumental cover of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” which then bled right into the punchy “Everyone Else is an Asshole.” A classic Ska-based horn lead was coupled with Punk Rock belligerence on guitar and vocals as frontman Barrett delivered barb after barb singing, “I tried to be nice/I tried to live my life/everyone else is an asshole………..and everybody else/thinks of no one but themselves/and no one wants to help.” Turning on the jets, “The Kids Don’t Like It” had the band going at a breakneck pace through the choruses, and even faster during the breaks. The speed was tempered with a sophisticated solo on trumpet from Christianson touching on the finer elements of Soul and Jazz.
Moving along with tons of energy, “Party Down” proved to be a Pop masterpiece with loads of harmonies, rocking guitars, and plenty of “woo-hoo”’s throughout. The crowd responded in turn as the floor became a sea of moving bodies. Taking on a cover is always a risky endeavor, especially when it is one of the most famous songs in the history of popular music. That did not stop Reel Big Fish from turning Van Morrison’s classic “Brown-Eyed Girl” on its ear. The melody was mimicked perfectly by the horns…at triple the pace of the original. Putting their stamp on it, the horns were in perfect synch with the “Sha la la la la la la la” refrain, delivering a rich soundscape.
The band teased another cover as they closed their set with the opening salvo of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” before splintering off into “Sell Out.” While the crowd was clearly enjoying themselves, no one was having more fun than the band as they bounced around the stage all through the night. The brief romp of the traditional “Ole” began the encores of “Beer” and another cover, A-Ha’s smash hit “Take on Me.” “Beer” began as a typical Reel Big Fish song with a vibrant horn lead, fun lyrics about partying, and plenty of dancing by the band. Showing their versatility, the middle section featured an extended guitar solo evoking the best of Classic Rock and Heavy Metal. A unique departure from the band’s signature sound. Show closer “Take on Me” was an exceptional blend of Pop, Ska, Reggae, and Rock with a touch of Heavy Metal as the horns blasted through the melody, the chorus was sung in an almost guttural tone, and the guitars eschewed the bouncy theme of the song and were thick and fuzzy. Reel Big Fish knows how to get a crowd going and their final song left the crowd screaming for more.
By the time Less Than Jake took the stage, the crowd should have been gassed, but they were thirsty for more. Set opener “Look What Happened” began with a slow, melodic intro showcasing languid electric guitar and mellow lyrics before exploding into an all-out Ska-Reggae romper with lyrics heavy on Punk sensibilities. It then circled back to the gentle, introspective sounds of the opening before blasting off again. “Nervous in the Alley” found the band sprinkling in some Latin flair combining horns with front and center vocals delivering a Pop-perfect song that eventually closed with a rapid-fire verse and chorus. The song “Sugar in Your Gas Tank” was an unstoppable raver that the band laid down at light speed echoing the ’90s second wave of Punk Rock highlighted with hard-hitting horns to lighten the mood. With a downright jazzy lead on saxophone, “Dopeman” eventually spiraled into their classic Ska sound as DeMakes sang about the tough choice between going legit and slinging drugs as he screamed, “it’s either work at McDonald’s or the corner store/a quick money fix from a deal or two/when a decision comes down/what would you do?”
Keeping the audience completely engaged, “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” began with a Classic Rock and Roll drumbeat before spilling into a medium-paced Reggae-tinged number with laid-back horns and a simple riff on guitar. The crowd roared along with the chorus, naturally, as it began with the line, “I’ll sing along”. Leaping into the air throughout, the crowd drowned out the band as they belted out the lyrics. Show closer “Plastic Cup Politics” found the band bristling with energy despite winding down the show. Packed with staccato punches from the horns, it was pure, relentless, raw energy clocking in at just over two minutes and was the exclamation point on a powerful set.
Hoping for more, the crowd were granted a three song encore which started with “The Rest of My Life” which was a retreat from the band’s normal high-flying style as the band delivered a slice of radio-friendly Pop-Rock that would not feel out of place on the top 40. Prior to the next track, “Give Me Something to Believe In,” a friend of the band proposed to his girlfriend on stage, and the crowd showered the happy couple with cheers. Show closer “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” exemplified the band’s sharp sense of humor and even sharper chops. While the guitar usually lingers in the background as the horns and drums propel the song, staying true to the title, the song featured a riff that would make Ritchie Blackmore proud and a solo to match. Of course, the horns also made their presence felt throughout the number.
While Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish’s tour together ends June 27th, they both have dates scheduled through the Fall. For a night of rip-roaring music, unavoidable dancing, top-notch horn playing, and downright fun, these are the bands to see. Twenty years on, both bands play with the youthful exuberance of band’s trying to get their first record deal. One would be hard-pressed to find two bands who can deliver the goods as consistently as Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish when it comes to a wild, free for all party.