Similar to the hero mythos of The Dark Knight, most bands either break up early or live long enough for all their fans to hate them. Reel Big Fish isn’t most bands. Over the past three decades, they have consistently released ska album after ska album and maintaining a fandom that always comes out to party. Tuesday night at the Aztec Theatre was no exception.

Where so many ska bands didn’t survive the demise of the third wave renaiSKAnce of the late 90s through early aughts, Reel Big Fish has been holding strong while never sacrificing their sound. Even when the band migrated over to Jive Records, (best known for the boy band phenomena of the late 90s) as refugees of the Mojo records buyout, the band produced a ska album that adapted to the aughts including singles that have become a mainstay in their setlist. While only one original member remains – Lead Singer/Guitar Virtuoso Aaron Barrett – the Reel Big Fish brand has become an entity that is synonymous with ska.

Mest

Opening for the band was turn of the millennium pop punk staples Mest[1], a band that could have been two pivots away from New Found Glory or Sum 41 as the poster child for early aughts teen comedy soundtracks. As most pop punk of the time, the band put on a high-energy show with tons of pogoing and moshing. The band brought the house down with their penultimate song “Cadillac,” the ultimate driving through your neighborhood with your windows down and stereo up as a teenager who just got their license anthem.

As the band played through their closer “Rooftops,” lead singer Tony Lovato called out a fan in the crowd for continuously throwing kids over the railing. In what turned into a 5-10 minute affair, Lovato made sure it was clear that the fan was held accountable for being reckless. When the crowd started booing the fan, Lovato and the rest of the band made it clear we weren’t here to boo, he just wanted to make sure that everybody was in a safe space to mosh around and not feel threatened. It was nice to see a band manage to hold a fan accountable without turning the whole crowd against them. As security escorted the fan away, the band finished their set to a roar of applause.

Reel Big Fish took the stage shortly after and did not disappoint. Halfway through the set, Barrett yelled out “we know you guys are here for the old stuff” and jokingly announced “here’s our big 90s hit” and the band started playing “All Star” by Smashmouth. He repeated the joke again with Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and in a game of we’re getting warmer repeated it one more time playing “The Impression That I Get” by fellow third wave ska stalwarts Mighty Mighty Bosstones. There was a inept sense of self awareness that really embodies a group of dudes playing ska music in 2019. There has always been a positive vibe with their music and their ability to joke at their own expense reminded us why we still go to their shows all these years later.[2] Furthermore, the cover medley only emphasized their musicianship. It can never be stated enough that the technical music ability within the band has always been impressive. The horn section has always been tight and the drum and bass have always been consistent, but what separates Reel Big Fish from so many other third wave ska bands that have come and gone is Barrett’s guitar work. He transitions flawlessly from upstrokes to hair metal riffs like some kind of guitar Alexa. Even nearly 30 years later, his shredability is fun to watch.

Reel Big Fish

The band went through the encore routine before leaving the stage again without playing their best song “Beer.” Barrett returned to the stage shortly barely able to hide his shit-eating grin as he pretended to make an announcement. “Oh and one more thing…” he said as he started playing the upstrokes to “Beer,” before the whole band joined. Everybody in the crowd knew the routine and yet we were all just as excited to hear those guitar strokes like a bunch of kids who knows the bunny is going to come out of the hat but is just as excited to see it happen anyway. It’s that child-like wonder and excitement that explains why Reel Big Fish have managed to stay relevant for so long. Sure there is quite a degree of it owed to nostalgia, but they’ve never even taken an “indefinite hiatus” for fans to start missing them and still manage to bring in a crowd who “guess they’ll have themselves a beer.”

 

So sure most bands will break up far too soon, or live on and become something all their old fans hate, but that will probably never happen to Reel Big Fish. As long as they put on the show they always do, they might just do this forever.



[1] I unfortunately could not get off work early enough to catch Bikini Trill

[2] This was my fifth time seeing them. The first one was an amazing story I’ve repeated too many times at Warped Tour 2002, my cousin Christopher can attest. The second time was in Austin with Streetlight Manifesto and MxPx and easily on my top ten shows I’ve seen of all time.

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