Date: October 16th 2017
Venue: O2 Kentish Town Forum, London
Support: Sweet Little Machine / Mad Caddies / Anti-Flag
Let’s face it, when you think of ska-punk, you think of Reel Big Fish. The California heavyweights and ‘Sell Out’ hitmakers have now been around for over two decades, which is mind-boggling really. This year, they’re headlining the Fireball: Fuelling The Fire Tour, and, tonight at the O2 Kentish Town Forum, you can practically taste the cinnamon whiskey in the air.
First up is the only UK band on the bill, Sheffield’s Sweet Little Machine , who try their hardest to warm up a slightly lacklustre crowd. They don’t do a bad job either, pumping out one sing-a-long chorus after another. “Who do you hate?” frontman Alex Lantrua-Kissack asks the crowd when introducing the brilliantly titled, ‘Dickwad Prickface’. “It’s okay if you say me”, he grins. Whilst this is nothing spectacular, Sweet Little Machine are an incredibly likeable bunch, and by the end of their set, a good chunk of the audience are singing along with the catchy ‘Monsters’.
Up next, and setting the tone for the evening with their own brand of Californian ska punk are Mad Caddies , and it’s time for this party to really get started. They open with jazzy slow burner ‘Lay Your Head Down’, and the charismatic Chuck Robertson has the audience in the palm of his hand. Things soon liven up, however, as the relentless drums of ‘Tired Bones’ kick in, before the raucous ‘Monkeys’ sees pits open up all across the packed floor. The band’s sound varies from track to track, with elements of jazz, hardcore, and even swing coming into play, all blending together in one incredibly vibrant and memorable set.
It’s unsurprising that Anti-Flag  bring a slightly different attitude to the evening. The Pennsylvania four piece are known for their hard hitting, politically charged punk rock songs, and it’s evident that their set tonight will be no different, as bassist Chris Barker struts onto stage in a fetching shirt bearing the words “Smash The Alt-Right”. As they open with the anthemic ‘The Press Corps’, the audience erupts into glorious fist-pumping, gang-chanting revelry. Throughout the set, Barker and guitarist Justin Sane never miss an opportunity to let the audience know what’s important to them, namely their anger at the rise of neo-fascism and corrupt politics. The fact that they are so obviously genuine means this is rousing, not preachy, and it’s great to see a band using their platform to draw attention to issues they really care about. Of course, the music speaks for itself – new single ‘American Attraction’ soars, and set closer ‘Brandenburg Gate’ sees Barker climb in with the audience in a move that epitomises the unity and solidarity this band stand for. With the combination of their passion, ferocity, and knowing their way around a hook, Anti-Flag manage to deliver everything a punk rock set should do.
The air is now thick with sweat and Fireball as headliners Reel Big Fish  take to the stage in their characteristic colourful outfits. As they jump head first into ‘Ole’, you can already tell you’re in for something special – or at least, something a hell of a lot of fun, and the fun won’t let up as the band leap into one banger after another. From the delightfully self-aware ‘Everyone Else Is An Asshole’ to light-hearted drinking song ‘Everybody’s Drunk’, everything is done with tongues placed firmly in cheeks, and the comedy never feels forced or overplayed. It’s simply good vibes for all involved, as skanking and mosh pits abound, and cheers emanate as Laila Khan of Sonic Boom Six joins the band on stage for ‘She’s Got A Girlfriend Now’.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Reel Big Fish set without plenty of covers, and they appear to have brought a veritable Mary Poppins bag full of them, pulling out one after another. An airy ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ is swiftly followed by a punchy version of ‘Don’t Stop Believin”, and the crowd lap it up. “This is a Reel Big Fish original”, says frontman Aaron Barrett before launching into Nirvana‘s classic, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. “Just kidding”, he smiles. “That was, of course, by Metallica.”
‘Sell Out’ provokes one of the largest sing-alongs of the night, while ‘Beer’, which the band blend effortlessly with The Offspring‘s ‘Self Esteem’, sees the audience flinging cups of the song’s namesake euphorically around the venue. For their much demanded encore, the band briefly slow things down a notch with ‘Where Have You Been’, before they close by bringing Internet memes to life with their infamous and excellent cover of A-ha‘s ‘Take On Me’.
This is a band that don’t just bring the party – they ARE the party, and their cheery horn sections and facetious lyrics can’t fail to bring a smile to the face of even the most ardent cynic. If you’re feeling low, lethargic, overwhelmed by the melancholic and misanthropic bands so prevalent in metal and hardcore, or if you’re just in need of a damn good time, Reel Big Fish are just what the doctor ordered.
Written by Lottie Cook (@pixelottie)