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Reel Big Fish epitomize live performance

| Monday, April 13, 2015

Reel Big FishKeri O'Mara | The Observer

Legend’s Springboard Music Fest closed strong with a Saturday night performance by Reel Big Fish: a ska/punk band which has not only demonstrated longevity with almost 25 years of activity, but also seems to have improved with experience, bringing to Legends a complete set of instruments played by a brilliant group of musicians. The band experienced mainstream recognition in the mid- to late-1990s but is currently independent from a major record label and enjoys more of a cult following.

Concertgoers were greeted with an aggressive offering of stylish Springboard t-shirts (I was given a bag of three and plan to tie-dye at least two). Such a warm welcome helped to overcome the venue’s challenges. In a smaller venue like Legends with a limited audience, a band with such gigantic musical presence can be intimidating, packing every corner of the room with powerful sound. It’s important for the audience to be engaged from the start. A distribution of glow sticks helped get everybody primed to party, because it’s hard to wear a glow stick without jumping around.

Reel Big Fish, calling themselves the ultimate party band, delivered everything a live band should. While their recorded albums have enjoyed lasting success, none of the recordings even come close to capturing the experience of a live performance by this band. Instruments including saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, all resting on excellent drum and bass that could be heard from South Quad (probably, but I was inside so I wouldn’t know), incited an irresistible urge to sway and jump to the infectious beat. The band was led by guitarist Aaron Barret, its only remaining founding member from its start in 1991, who set a goofy, energetic tone for the show in his wacky glasses and patterned guitar. It was obvious that all band members had their hearts in the performance when they engaged the crowd in conversation and entertained with jokes between songs, I even witnessed some back-and-forth between saxophonist Matt Appleton (aka Saxel Rose) and a particularly enthusiastic fan in the front row. The chemistry of the band members was obvious both by their banter and the flow of their jam sessions, especially in the horn section.

The energy of Reel Big Fish was matched by the crowd, who bounced with the ska rhythm and complied when Barret instructed “Everybody jump!” Punk elements even incited a spirited mosh pit in the center of the crowd. “Skanking” is the term for the ska style of dancing that originated in the 60s in Jamaican dance halls. It is unclear whether audience members at Legends were aware of this style of dance, or if the ska rhythm naturally led to the kicking and elbowing motions of the skank. Intentionally or not, the crowd at Legends was skanking nonstop.

The setlist maintained a lively feel through hits like “Sell Out” and the band’s other favorites. Sarcastic lyrics complimented interesting beats played on an exciting array of instruments. The audience was held on edge when we were cleverly teased into anticipation of RBF’s hit song “Beer” with others about their favorite drinks such as “Margaritaville” and “Red Red Wine.” They kept things interest with snippets of classics, but stayed true to their biggest hit covers “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Take On Me” to which everyone sang along. They demonstrated an impressive range of genre capabilities, playing one song in many different styles such as death metal and disco. You don’t have to be a fan of Jamaican calypso to enjoy a show like this; any lover of music found themselves entertained.

It was clear by the infectious energy that both the crowd at Legends and Reel Big Fish just came to party down.

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