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Live Review: Reel Big Fish – Sub89, Reading – 24/02/13

Veterans from the third-wave of ska Reel Big Fish are back in the UK touring in support of their first proper album in years. Their new material might not be up to much, but there’s still plenty to love about these Californian ska-peddlers!

Band: Reel Big Fish
Support: Suburban Legends
Venue: Sub89, Reading
Date: 24/02/13

At any live event, a good audience is at least as important as the quality of the performance on offer and it was clear long before Reel Big Fish were due to go on that the rowdy bunch at this sold out show were there to have a good time – Suburban Legends’ ska punk rendition of ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ provoked skanking from front to back, creating a momentary glimpse of things to come.

When Reel Big Fish arrived on stage, looking suitably ridiculous, pockets of dancers instantly emerged all through the room and not even the excess of new material in this show could put them off!

It’s understandable that the guys want to plug their new tracks, but the sheer volume of them meant too much of the evening was spent waiting to hear their ‘hits’. For every ‘She Used To Be My Girl’, ‘I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend’ or ‘Beer’ we had to endure tediously repetitive numbers like ‘Everyone Else Is An Asshole’ or downright terrible ones such as ‘I Know You Too Well To Like You Anymore’.

But it takes more than a couple of poorly chosen songs to ruin a ska punk show and there was plenty to love about this set: Dan Regan and John Christianson were phenomenal on the trombone and trumpet respectively, and Matt Appleton’s contribution on the alto sax added to the character and fullness of the brass section no end.

On stage, Aaron Barrett still has plenty of chat and some well-chosen cover songs – ‘Monkey Man’ by The Specials and Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ – certainly added to the sense of fun on the night.

At the end of a mammoth set the band momentarily left the stage to check that the crowd were still keen for more, before returning for an encore which didn’t take long to descend hilariously into madness.

Don’t Stop Skankin’’ is a standout track on the new record and the band have clearly clocked that the title conveniently doubles as an instruction. Tonight, they cranked out several increasingly ridiculous versions of the tune. After ‘Don’t Stop Jumpin’’ there was ‘Don’t Stop Clappin’’. ‘Don’t Stop Circle Pittin’’ was followed by ‘Don’t Stop Square Dancin’’. Finally, this surreal experience (it doesn’t get much more surreal than watching bunch of wasted thirty-somethings in Hawaiian shirts attempting to square dance) was brought to an end and the band launched into touring favourite ‘In The Pit’ – during which the audience, now fully used to doing what they’re told, proceeded to punch and kick in a pit that engulfed most of the room in front of the sound desk – before ending the night with their famous rendition of ‘Take On Me’.

Although many Reel Big Fish albums make better coasters than they do records, these guys still know how to put on a polished live show. With 21 years of touring experience under his belt, Aaron Barrett knows how to stage an engaging punk rock show and having a couple of duds on the set list wasn’t enough to spoil the night.


Reviewer: Solomon Radley

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