Ska punk's time in the limelight may have been short lived, and many of the younger generation may not know what a "Reel Big Fish" is. But even in the modern day, the bands I saw at the O2 Academy in Leeds, last Wednesday (6th November 2019) were nothing short of world-class.
Opening act Lightyear are a 7-piece from Derby with a bombastic, energetic sound that wears its punk and hip hop influences proudly. I would almost compare them to the Beastie Boys if not for the ska beat and brass section. They’re loud, fast and incredibly engaging, and a perfect choice to get the crowd going. Lightyear can bust out a hardcore ska punk track, and then hop into some horse and jockey costumes and do a lap around the stage; and you'll love both. Interestingly, the band are donating a percentage from merchandise sales directly to mental health charity "Heads Above The Waves", who support young people through depression and self harm.
After Lightyear came [spunge], another ska punk band, from Tewkesbury (shout out to Reel Big Fish for having two home grown bands supporting!). [spunge] leans into other genres more than Lightyear, including indie-rock and funk. They even forwent a brass section, at least for this performance. This results in quite a refreshing ska sound, allowing other elements to shine, such as the impressive guitar skills of Damon Robins, who got some wonderful tones from his Telecaster, and the charismatic presence of frontman Alex Copeland.
[spunge] certainly knew how to endear themselves to the crowd, opening with "Yorkshire" chants and getting them singing and jumping (or should I say Skanking?). Songs such as the very appropriate "Skanking Song" and the closing, "Kicking Pigeons" were catchy, well-received and a refreshing take on the genre. This band were fun and humble (appearing out in the crowd later for the headliners and a drink) which along with some serious musical chops are definitely worth a listen.
Finally, the headliners "Reel Big Fish". The Orange County band may be one of the most recognisable in the genre, and for good reason. Whilst Aaron Barrett may be the only original member left, they still retain the Reel Big Fish sound (more so than the bands prior, who allowed other genres to take priority) and a relentlessly colourful style. Quite frankly, when on stage you couldn't tell the band had only reunited recently. The new songs on the set list, such as opener and new album title track "Life Sucks, Let's Dance!" blended well with older hits and their well known covers of “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Monkey Man”. The band never seemed to take a break, announcing hit after hit with "this is a ska song."
Overall, the crowd certainly got their money's worth. Three great bands played great sets, each with slightly different takes on ska punk. Each brought their infectious high energy which is a reminder of why the third wave of Ska had its time in the charts.
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