LIVE REVIEW: Reel Big Fish @ O2 Kentish Town Forum, London (30/10/2018)

Credit: Promo

Date: October 30th 2018
Venue: O2 Kentish Town Forum, London
Support: Suburban Legends / Zebrahead / Less Than Jake


90s ska punk is probably up there with country as one of music’s most contentious genres. Few others are met with quite as much derision, but that hasn’t stopped two of its biggest heavy hitters, Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish, from heading out on a co-headline UK tour this year.

So, is there still a place for ska punk, or should it have been left behind a decade ago? We’re about to find out. Bring on the trumpets.

Unsurprisingly, it’s Reel Big Fish proteges Suburban Legends [6] who are up first. Sounding so similar to the two headliners that they almost feel like a tribute band, there’s not a great deal of originality on display here.

That doesn’t necessarily make it bad though – the catchy, skatepunk-y ‘Forever In The Friendzone’ sounds like it could be an early Blink-182 cut, and you can’t fault Vince Walker‘s stage presence as he struts around the stage in eye-catching red trousers to a gloriously kitsch rendition of ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’.

Zebrahead [7], being almost as synonymous with ska punk as the headliners themselves, are a fitting main support. Naturally, they’re still touring aged classics like ‘Hell Yeah!’ and ‘Falling Apart’, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone here.

With their notorious on stage bar out in full force, it’s clear that they’re here for a good time, not a serious time, as they invite members of the audience to partake alongside two guys dressed as beer bottles during ‘Drink Drink’. The entire set is like a booze-fuelled nostalgic house party, but it’s the anthemic, err, ‘Anthem’, that really gets the crowd jumping. Nothing if not entertaining.

By the time the first of the two headliners, Less Than Jake [7], take to the stage, the floor is so rammed that it’s difficult to get past the bar. Beer spills everywhere as they open with ‘Gainesville Rock City’ and the atmosphere is electric – if you’d never heard of them, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were a hyped new band.

In the same vein, it’s surprising how fresh and relevant some of their material still sounds; ‘History Of A Boring Town’ and ‘Al’s War’ don’t feel like they’re from an album that’s now twenty years old, whilst newer track ‘Whatever The Weather’ could easily be played alongside Neck Deep and the like.

The emo-tinged ballad ‘The Rest Of My Life’ is starkly different to the rest of Less Than Jake‘s catalogue, with no jovial horn section, but it’s a real treat to hear live. Nothing can quite compare to the unstoppable closing duo of ‘The Science Of Selling Yourself Short’ and that infamous intro to ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’, though. If you can keep yourself from singing along, you’re stronger (or more boring) than us.

Reel Big Fish [8] have the job of closing the evening, and it’s probably an enviable position given that most of the audience is a few pints down by now. Still, you don’t need to be drunk to enjoy this band, as they’re Reel Big Fun (sorry). Coming out to the now meme’d into oblivion ‘Take On Me’, if you weren’t in the party spirit by now, you soon will be if Aaron Barrett and co. have anything to say about it.

From ‘Everyone Else Is An Asshole’ and ‘Where Have You Been’, to ‘She Has A Girlfriend Now’ (with a guest appearance from Laila Khan of Sonic Boom Six) and ‘Sell Out’, the set is packed with more hits than an extremely close game of Battleships. New track ‘You Can’t Have All Of Me’ is no less of a banger, and could easily have been pulled from their extensive back catalogue.

Of course, a Reel Big Fish set wouldn’t be complete without some covers, and they pull out ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and a particularly raucous rendition of ‘Monkey Man’ to keep tradition alive. Ending on a triumphant ‘Beer’, Reel Big Fish just edge it over Less Than Jake in terms of best performance, but if tonight proves anything, it’s that ska punk is being kept alive and well, and maybe the haters just don’t know how to have fun.