Disclaimer: I am biased toward enjoying ska as a former ska trumpet player, but you too can find something fun in the genre if you just go to a concert. One outstanding place to start? Go see Reel Big Fish.
At least a few of you will consider the title of this post a loss of some musical credibility. And you may have a point: ska is not as technically demanding, artistically viable, or musically complex as other genres in the popular consciousness. But ultimately the live ska experience matters because it is simply a fun time, so enjoyable that it’s worth seeing in-person. It takes the high-energy nature of punk and adds a layer of horns and dancable rhythm. And if you’re lucky, the band also has a stage presence that pulls everything together. In this case, the luck was there: there is no live band quite like Reel Big Fish.
Reel Big Fish are on a Summer of Ska tour with various openers (be sure to check out if they’re coming near you). The Columbus show featured a high-energy pop-punk band Maxies, an outstanding ska band Suburban Legends, and a mediocre excuse for a giant mosh pit Big D and the Kids Table. All three had their high points, but Suburban Legends were clearly the best of the warm-up bands; their strong horn section and impressive choreography kept the crowd enthralled through their whole set.
But the lead attraction was clearly the reason for the show. Reel Big Fish are unlike any other group I’ve seen: they’re confident to a nearly-insulting level, have incredible banter with each other and the audience, and command attention the entire time. For a hint at the kind of show they perform, check out their outstanding live record on Spotify. Their performance at the Newport last Sunday was no less enjoyable. Songs were loaded with hooks, the sound quality was on par with (and often better than) their studio recordings, and the group’s command of the crowd was at an expected, exceptional level. They hit the high notes with comedy with the song “S.R.,” one that focuses on stylistic parodies of metal, country, and disco. They pandered with lively renditions of their most popular songs including “Sell Out.”
But most importantly, they were entertaining. They didn’t threaten, they didn’t bore; yes they didn’t push boundaries, but they didn’t take things too seriously either. Sometimes (and I know I’m guilty of this) we get caught up in the potential for music to advance and reach new artistic or cultural heights and can get lost in the pretentiousness. Reel Big Fish are a tonic to that kind of attitude; they play catchy punk rock with horns and get the audience to dance like fools. Their music is enjoyable, but their performance is outstanding. When you get a chance, go see Reel Big Fish. Quite simply, you will have fun.