Reel Big Fish

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The most fun I have ever had at a concert was at a ska show. In August 2007, just before heading back to St. Louis for my sophomore year, my friend Konstantin and I drove to Bogart’s in Cincinnati to see Streetlight Manifesto, Less Than Jake, and Reel Big Fish. I had broken one of my toes the week prior, but the ska got to me and I spent the entire night in the pit. Hours later I was downing painkillers in a Kroger parking lot in total ecstasy.

The Majestic’s ska line-up this past Saturday may have lacked the pedigree of that show years ago, the three ska act line-up of Beebs & Her Money Makers, Suburban Legends, and Reel Big Fish was still packed with promise. Armed with a healthy foot, my trusty Doc Martens, and my “punk” patch vest, I was ready to get my skanking on.

In good spirits after the Badgers win, my friend Joe and I arrived at a halfway-full Majestic Theater midway through the opening set of Beebs & Her Money Makers. Having only listened to a couple songs before the show, I was pleasantly surprised by the band. Clad in a uniform of sorts, each band member wore black and white checkered pants, while Beebs wore a red and yellow skirt with black and white checkered leggings. True to their colorful outfits, the band’s take on ska focused mostly on bright, upbeat melodies more indebted to the second wave of ska, than the punk-influenced third wave. Frontwoman Beebs’ deep, soulful voice added texture to the tunes and prevented them from overly sunny. Standout songs included “Miss Captain Kangaroo”, which featured a dancing robot and alternated between a heavy rock breakdown and blues-influenced ska; and “Crazy”, a typically sunny ska jam featuring Aaron Barrett of  Reel Big Fish on vocals. After their set, I could tell that the crowd was ready to get the party started.

Suburban Legends followed Beebs et al. Mostly famous for their ska-punk covers of various songs, the Legends played a super-caffeinated form of third wave ska replete with coordinated dance moves from their singer and horn players. Their song “High Fives” was pleasant enough, but frankly their act didn’t work for me. As party-fuel the Suburban Legends were enjoyable, but their reliance on feel-good covers of Disney songs (The DuckTales theme and The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl”) and over-enthusiastic dance moves rubbed me the wrong way. Unless you have a Disney sweet tooth or just love watching grown men dance like *N Sync, I cannot recommend going out of your way for Suburban Legends.

Following the stop-gap that was Suburban Legends, the sellout crowd showed up on the floor. My friend Joe and I fought to the middle of the floor in anticipation of Reel Big Fish. Having taken their positions on stage, the band immediately launched into fan favorites “Everything Sucks”, “Trendy”, and “The Setup (You Need This)”; and the Majestic erupted. With everyone dancing and singing along, the setlist, sprinkled with typical Reel Big Fish jokes and commentary, played like a greatest hits collection. A mid-set appearance of their biggest hit, “Sell Out”, got the floor moving, with “Everyone Else is an Asshole”, Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time”, and a Beebs appearance on “She Has a Girlfriend Now” all being highlights. The biggest pit of the night formed on set closer “Beer”, which featured the Offspring’s “Self Esteem” (“It’s the same song”, per lead singer Aaron Barrett). Leaving the audience sucking air, the gang left the stage for the prerequisite pre-encore interlude.

Sweating profusely (at least those around me were), the audience members mustered up what remained of their voices for the customary “Reel Big Fish, Oi!” chant. After mercifully few repetitions, the band was back on stage for a four-song encore. A particularly passionate take on “Where Have You Been” had our hearts racing again, as the pit opened back up, followed by a necessary cool-down with the mid-tempo “Hiding in My Headphones”. The respite was needed, but short-lived, as the band launched into a medley of “In the Pit” and Sublime’s “Garden Grove”, followed by their iconic version of “Take on Me” by A-Ha. After thoroughly pummeling the crowd with tunes, Reel Big Fish bid us adieu and left us to the night.

In all honesty, the show Saturday night did not measure up to that show I saw years ago, but it didn’t need to. Someone somewhere once said “Always leave them wanting more”. On Saturday night, just like the show I saw years ago, I don’t know if I could have taken much more, but I definitely want to see Reel Big Fish and Beebs & Her Money Makers again.

-Matt Cortner