LIVE: Less Than Jake / Reel Big Fish @ O2 Ritz, Manchester

By Tom Walsh

Lie me on the bed, hook me up to an IV drip and pump me full of early-2000s nostalgia – Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish are in town. It’s time dust off your trilby, fish out that checkerboard studded belt and see if your Airwalks still fit, because we’ve got a couple of hours of skanking to ska punk ahead of us.

Tours of this ilk are always a good litmus test of how old you feel. Manchester’s O2 Ritz is a sea of 30-somethings who first picked up a ska punk record when they were 13. They heard Reel Big Fish’s ‘Sell Out’ on Kerrang! or Scuzz while bobbing their head along to Less Than Jake’s ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’, playing Tony Hawks Pro Skater on their old PlayStation.

Now we’re all grown up, the hangovers sting a little more than they used to, and it’s getting a little bit harder to shift that muffin top, but there is one thing we all still secretly love – ska punk. So when Reel Big Fish open their set with their unmistakable cover of A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ everyone is instantly transported back to a time of buying copied albums off friends at school.

Every man, woman, child and, for some reason, a Staffordshire bull terrier is here for a night of fun and Reel Big Fish set the tone immediately. It feels like a celebration of a simpler time where things didn’t seem so suffocating and youthful ignorance dominated our thoughts. Heads nod along as front man Aaron Barrett has everyone singing that “they’re doing the fish” to the still infectiously brilliant ‘Trendy’ and the tongue-in-cheek love song ‘She Has A Girlfriend Now’. Barrett takes a moment to announce that they’ve “got a new song to play… later”, which is met with a knowing laugh from the audience.

We’re not here for new material, we all want to dance around to ‘Where Have You Been’ and a cover of ‘Monkey Man’. Reel Big Fish do sneak in their latest single ‘You Can’t Have All Of Me’ but only revealing this after the fact. Best to keep that quiet and wrap up with celebratory renditions of ‘Sell Out’ and ‘Beer’.

You can’t really have a ska punk nostalgia-fest without the presence of Less Than Jake. You especially can’t have one without them when they can open a headline slot with the rapturous ‘Gainesville Rock City’. This is soon the party everyone anticipated it to be, as bass player Roger Lima starts dishing out cups of BrewDog Punk IPA to delighted hordes.

Lead singer Chris DeMakes encourages everyone in attendance to raise a glass for being hungover in work tomorrow as he introduces ‘History of a Boring Town’. Beach balls fly through the venue, fan after fan are brought up on stage (and, for some reason, then immediately ignored as they dance awkwardly at the back) and toilet roll is fired into the crowd.

This is what we all remember, right?

Every word of Less Than Jake’s set is echoed by a crowd that first bought an album when they wore baggy jeans and were constantly falling off their skateboard. The duo of ‘She’s Gonna Break Soon’ and ‘Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts’ still sound huge, while the closers of ‘The Science of Selling Yourself Short’ and ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’ produce the biggest sing-a-longs of the night.

The next morning will provide the hangover we could once bounce back from, the mohawk will have to be combed back down, and the Airwalks will have to go back in the cupboard for another year – but for these nights, we can all be transported back to 2001. And that’s pretty good.