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Sunday 2 February 2014

Another Point Of View: Less Than Jake (Review by Neil Lewis)

Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, Zebrahead + Ryland Steen, Cardiff University Great Hall

The three bands on this bill are close friends off stage and tour together in various configurations regularly in the states. As far as I'm aware though this is the first time that all three bands have toured the UK together. This sold out 1,500 capacity venue is a large upgrade from the last time any of the bands played in Cardiff, which pretty much solidified this date as being more anticipated than those previous dates long before the show rolled around; the touts outside were offering tickets for over three times their face value on the night.

The first thing that greeted early arrivers to the venue was the sight of Reel Big Fish's drummer Ryland Steen performing a short intimate acoustic set. This was an unadvertised appearance which I mostly missed so I won't give a review except to say it was a nice surprise.


Despite being mostly in their mid to late 30's or older Orange County's Zebrahead are still writing songs about partying, drinking and girls - not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. Their pop-punk/rap hybrid is pretty unique and the songs are played with such enthusiasm and vigour that you can't help but enjoy the show. Rapper Ali Tabatabaee bouncing around the stage whilst spitting out his rhymes with machine gun accuracy. The usual “Zeebrahead” versus “Zebrahead” pronunciation of their name cropped up again (which I guess was the reason for the “this is an American bus, speak American only on this bus!” sign in the front of their tour bus), whilst the band rattled through some of the crowds favourite songs (Rescue Me, Postcards From Hell, Anthem) also dropping in some of my personal favourites from last years tenth album Call Your Friends (I'm Just Here For The Free Beer, and the title track most notably). They may come across as frat boys who refuse to grow up but Zebrahead still put on a fun show that is - as always - totally infectious. And there was some mightily impressive facial hair being sported by guitarist Dan Palmer and drummer Ed Udhus (8/10).

Reel Big Fish 

By the time fellow Californians Reel Big Fish take the stage the venue had filled to capacity. I am not joking when I say it was seriously heaving in there. And by the sounds of things the atmosphere from the afternoons Six Nations rugby match was transferred straight into the Great Hall. This crowd had come to sing along, and sing they did. I've seen Reel Big Fish live upwards of half a dozen times over the past few years and their annual early year tours (which have featured a Cardiff date since 2011) appear to be getting the band some momentum, at least in the live arena. The setlist was familiar to all in attendance and featured some of the bands very best tunes (Trendy, I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend, Thank You For Not Moshing plus a ska-ed up Imperial March intro'd Where Have You Been) along with their usual between song banter - the pick of which was frontman Aaron Barrett's “these are the four worst words a band can say to their audience: here's a new song”. Their set closed with an excellently chosen quadruple-hit of She Has A Girlfriend Now, Sell Out, Beer and their superb ska interpretation of A-Ha's Take On Me. The sound of practically the whole venue singing and dah-dah-dahdahdah-ing (yes, really!) along with all three tracks (including a mid-song segue of Beer into The Offspring's Self Esteem and back, because as Aaron put it “it's the same song!”) was absolutely electrifying, as well as pretty deafening. The performance of the band as usual was technically excellent and damned entertaining but that atmosphere was something else. Well played Cardiff, well played (10/10).

Less Than Jake 

Arriving on stage to no fanfare and no intro were Florida's Less Than Jake, who had a pretty hard act to follow. Sadly they simply couldn't follow the previous act as the audience appeared to be a little drained as well as thinned out for their set. Again a sort of greatest hits setlist ensued featuring the bands excellent song titles (Sugar In Your Gas Tank, Help Save The Youth Of America From Exploding, Last One Out Of Liberty City, The Science Of Selling Yourself Short et al) along with a light sprinkling of the best tracks from last year's rather excellent See The Light album, most notably set opener Good Enough and My Money Is On The Long Shot. A snatch of the RBF atmosphere briefly returned for the audience participation number Look What Happened but frankly the crowd appeared drained by this point and the enthusiastic reaction to the start of the songs had petered out a bit by the middle of most of them. It was something of a shame as the band were certainly putting on a great show but the electricity in the audience was fizzling out. Oddly the band chose to end their regular set with what I would say is their most recognisable song (All My Best Friends Are Metalheads) and the encore threesome of Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts, Plastic Cup Politics and Gainesville Rock City were rather odd choices in this writers opinion. Always leave them wanting more, so the saying goes, and there was certainly one band on this bill that did just that. Sadly, and as good as they were, that band on this night were not Less Than Jake (8/10).

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