Reel Big Fish – Leeds University

By paul

“Snow is falling, all around me, children playing, having fun” – pardon the Christmas singsong, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that Leeds had turned into deep mid-Winter with snow blizzards, viciously cold winds and icicles seemingly dripping off my nose. The things we do to get to a punk rock show… Anyway, with the queue around the block we nip off to a nearby pub to find RBF brass monkey Tyler Jones supping away, and thanks to Milk2Sugars and their ‘entourage’ we get him to pose for a picture with us. None to pleased to be bothered though, certain people were described in unpleasant terms…not the most pleasant band member I’ve ever met, but there you go.

Once inside the venue, my first time at Leeds Met, we wandered through the maze-like corridors trying to find another body to follow. Seriously, this place is like a rabbit warren with corridors twisting off left, right and centre. We finally found the bar (always important) and the top balcony, but with three top bands on the bill we all wanted to be on the floor, so a hasty shove and helpful nudge out of the way got us where the action is.

SUGARCULT have put out the album of 2003 so far – a sharp, short blast of punk rock proportions that thrills with its sheer brilliance. Tonight Tim, Marko and co aren’t quite on top form and their set seems a little tired. Tim’s vocals expecially seem knackered, and it would maybe seem that their partying isn’t doing them (and the vocalist’s waistline) any good. Still, we are all here to watch the boys go off and with drummer Ben out of rehab, the band show exactly why they are considered to be such hot property. ‘You’re The One’ and ‘Stuck In America’ induce mini mosh pits and the small venue soon becomes stiflingly hot and sweaty – a complete opposite to the Arctic conditions outside. The odd cover is thrown in for good measure to break the set up, but it’s the likes of ‘Hate Every Beautiful Day’, ‘Daddy’s Little Defect’ and ‘Saying Goodbye’ which carry things off spectacularly. Not quite up to the power of the ‘Start Static‘ album, but their onstage antics are funny and engaging. ‘Pretty Girl (The Way)’ slows things down for a few minutes before the predictable moshathon for closer ‘Bouncing Off The Walls’ which sees half of Leeds go stir crazy. Either the chemists have run out of Ritalin or too many kids have been on sugar highs, as the kids pogo away to their hearts content. Sugarcult will certainly have won some friends tonight, but they weren’t quite as good as I’d hoped for. (7.5)

On the other hand, THE STARTING LINE put on a 35-minute performance which blows everyone away. Having seen them last May it’s remarkable how brilliant this band has become in a live setting. Sporting what can only be described as a ‘bad’ haircut, frontman Kenny Vasoli holds the stage on his own, with guitarists Matt and Mike bouncing off each other, both physically and with some fantastic riffs. New and old songs sound fantastic, there’s enough energy here to keep a small African country going for a month and anyone with a pulse has their eyes fixated on the stage. ‘Up and Go’ is massive, ‘Saddest Girl Story’ immense and ‘Hello Houston‘ as fun as anything on offer tonight. ‘Decisions, Decisions’ is even better than on record and ‘Left Coast Envy’ has the biggest singalong chorus, in my eyes, of the evening. Kenny, all 5ft of him (well almost), fills the stage with such a massive presence and with the band jumping about like their lives depended on it, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this band. Of course ‘Leaving’ gets the best reception as fans at the front temporarily take over vocal duties. Their ‘Say It Like You Mean It’ album may have been over produced, but check them out live and listen again – this is a fantastic band that are really going places. (9)

I’m going to get strung up and shot for this, but hear me out. Tonight, in my opinion, REEL BIG FISH are lethargic, boring, predictable and not particularly funny. With an 80-minute set that dragged, I found myself looking at my watch every five minutes wondering when the band would stop playing the dirge from ‘Cheer Up’, an album which is their worst record by a long, long way. This is the third time I’ve seen RBF, once in support of each album, and this was by far the worst they’d been. For Aaron it seems playing is a chore and the jokes are awful, with drummer Carlos resorting to penis-in-mouth efforts that we all thought Blink had left behind in 2001. There’s the now routine ‘Dont Attack Iraq’ tirade and a homage to Matt Wong (which has been seen on every tour since 1886). But it’s the setlist that I just can’t understand. There’s no ‘Good Thing’, no ‘Trendy‘, no ‘The Kids Don’t Like It’ and the vast majority of the ‘Why Do They Rock So Hard’ album is missing. Instead we get the terrible ‘Rock and Roll Is Bitchin’ and the not so great ‘Somebody Loved Me’. I’ll admit I’m an old-skool Fish fan, nothing will beat their ‘Turn The Radio Off’ record when everything seemed so fun, less forced and more spontaneous. It’s no conincidence that ‘Sell Out’ gets the best reception and when the band leave there’s a massive chant for ‘Beer’. Why? Because these two songs are essential, timeless ska-punk songs – and Reel Big Fish haven’t come close to matching them since. However, despite my little rant, the crowd love it. The kids skank away like it’s going out of fashion to the likes of ‘Ban The Tube Top’, ‘Where Have You Been’ (complete with trumpet!) ‘She Has A Girlfriend Now’ and the aforementioned ‘Sell Out’. But for me it’s dull. Maybe I’m getting old and past my best, but in my opinion (and before you all kill me it is my opinion) The Starting Line not only blew RBF off the stage, they did so in hurricane style. A very disappointing performance which left me grabbing their early stuff to listen to in the car on the way home in an attempt to salvage something. This was the worst of the three performances when I’d seen them previously by a long way. (6)

Maybe it was a one off, but I left a little dejected, very, very sweaty and feeling disappointed that a band I’ve loved for so long have become stale. Then I remembered how good Sugarcult and The Starting Line were and felt a little better. Two bands that I’d recommend to anyone – it’s fresh, energetic and exciting and they have something to prove. Something I fear Reel Big Fish maybe don’t feel they have to do anymore…