Few styles of music can bring a smile to your face as easily as ska can, so what better way to beat the financial and meteorological blues than an evening’s entertainment hosted by the legendary Reel Big Fish?
Opening things up were Bradford four-piece Random Hand, who laughed in the face of the early start time and did a thoroughly acceptable job of warming things up. Musically, they had something a bit different about them, as their sound is more like a fusion of ska and nu metal rather than your standard ska punk, and with a touch more refinement they could really make a go of it. Their performance was lively and packed full of good beats and good humour, and they certainly earned themselves plenty of new friends.
Next up were the Californian ska punkers Suburban Legends, who took to the stage and performed a hilarious group dance before taking up their instruments and starting their first number. The synchronised dancing continued throughout their set, which really helped in getting the crowd moving. Suburban Legends’ songs were easy to enjoy on the first listen, and again their performance was full of vigour. And just in case they felt like the Academy crowd wasn’t enjoying their set enough, a wonderful ska version of the ‘Lion King’ classic “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” ensured a heroes reception come the end of their slot.
And so on to the headliners who, despite their frequent trips to these shores, still manage to attract a good sized following whenever they come to town. Kicking things off with “Trendy”, you realise just how good RBF’s songs are compared to their ska punk contemporaries, and other Fish classics like “In the Pit”, “Suckers” and “She Has a Girlfriend Now” get the whole crowd singing and skanking along. And for all their fooling around on stage, they are one of the tightest bands you could ever wish to see, while their brass section provides perfect accentuation for the choppy, upstroke guitar chords. However, at times their performance definitely seems to be a bit flat, or at the very least it is lacking something; whether that is down to the fact that RBF’s newer material is much more bitter and cynical, or simply due to the fact this was my fourth time seeing the Fish live I can’t be sure. Had this been my first live experience of modern ska’s finest, then I think this review would have been much more superlative laden, but compared to previous shows tonight was far from vintage Fish.
That’s not to say that the performance wasn’t enjoyable — far from it. In fact, a RBF show is never going to be dull, mainly due to the banter in between numbers, and moments like the airing of a brand new song that the band “wrote at soundcheck”, a song that sounded almost exactly like “Enter Sandman”. Oh, hang on, it was “Sandman” after all! Perhaps their more recent material doesn’t have as much wow factor as the older stuff, but Reel Big Fish have made their name on fun songs that you can sing along to by the second chorus, and there are plenty of numbers like that here tonight. And with a closing cavalcade of “Beer”, “Everything Sucks”, “Monkey Man”, “Sell Out” and “Take On Me”, you are always going to go home smiling. RBF are one of those bands that you really should try and see live, because they are one of the finest live bands there is, and so long as they keep enjoy doing what they do, they will no doubt keep coming back here to play. If you weren’t there this time, then make sure you catch their next visit.
RBF Setlist: Trendy, Another EU Song, In the Pit, New Version of You, The Bad Guy, Suckers, Slow Down, Veronica Sawyer, She’s Famous Now, A Little Doubt Goes a Long Way, Don’t Start a Band, Join the Club, You Don’t Know, She Has a Girlfriend Now, Nothin’ But a Good Time, Good Thing/Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em), Where Have You Been, Beer, Everything Sucks/Monkey Man/Sell Out/Take On Me.
Review & Photos – Dave Musson