Title: Anti-Flag, Reel Big Fish
I saw Reel Big Fish and Anti-Flag at the Showbox last night.
There were a couple of openers, but I wasn’t all that interested in them. I managed to walk in just about when Anti-Flag took the stage.
Anti-Flag is a hard-core punk band that’s been around for twenty years. They are a high energy band raging against government. Their first albums were released in the 1990’s. If they were angry about the Clinton administration, then you can imagine how they feel about Trump.
Between songs, they were aggressively advocating for immigrant rights and attacking Trump, encouraging everyone to take to the streets to protest.
Paying money to be preached to / ranted at (even if you agree with them philosophically) might have gotten a little tedious but, in all honesty, they rocked the house. Musically, they are a tight, hard driving, raucous act that had the audience dancing, jumping, and screaming.
Amusingly enough, from a distance, the drummer to me actually looked like Bill Clinton. I’m not talking about the current, skinny, vegan version of Clinton today but the mid-90s portly, ebullient Clinton. The key to any hard driving band is its rhythm section, and seeing Clinton in the back just furiously beating on the drums with what looked (again, from a distance) a very smug Clintonian smile on his face made me smile as well.
One highlight was when the singer introduced the song that got them into punk rock and then they played an intense version of The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go. Another highlight was when the bassist and the drummer set up in the audience and played a song from there.
I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations for Anti-Flag and they certainly far exceeded those. They were pretty awesome live.
Now I was a little concerned. After firing up the crowd on punk and politics, how was Reel Big Fish going to fare? They are not political and they play goofy, happy-go-lucky ska.
No need to worry.
They came on and played a couple of quick songs to warm the crowd up. They then announced that since it was 20 years since the release of their major album, Turn The Radio Off, that they were going to play the album in order.
On the one hand, it’s a cool idea. This was the album that first turned me on to Reel Big Fish. I listened to it several times, so I was going to be pretty familiar with all of the songs.
On the other hand, I always think it’s an interesting choice for an artist to make. I had a similar thought when I saw X perform front to back the album Los Angeles on the thirtieth anniversary of its release.
How does an artist feel completely reliving music that was generated decades ago? Is it somehow comforting / reassuring that your work has stood the test of time? Does it make you wonder if the ensuing decades of artistic work has been a waste? Are you left feeling that you are so far from your prime that you have to mine your youth for inspiration? Or are you at the point in your career where, fuck it, I have a mortgage payment to make and if this is what the monkeys want to hear, here it is and go fuck yourselves?
To go off another tangent, whenever he performed, it was written in Chuck Berry’s contract that he’d perform for 46 minutes (or some such specific number). My brother went, and sure enough, at the 46 minute mark he was finished, unplugged, and walking off of the stage. His act was timed so precisely that for decades he played the same precise set. At the end of the day, it was just a job to him.
Be that as it may, Reel Big Fish rocked it. It was a totally different vibe than Anti-Flag. They were happy, colorfully dressed, pogo’ing, making fun of each other. Their enthusiasm was infectious, as most of the crowd was also pogo’ing. Even though it was tight quarters, many people were skanking.
I guess this show shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. For a band with limited commercial appeal to survive twenty or more years implies that they must have a rock solid live performance.
And for both Anti-Flag and Reel Big Fish, this was certainly true. Although in the same show you ended up with two dramatically different vibes (in the first half you were raging at the man and the second half you were gleefully dancing), at the end of the night what you remember is how much fun you had.