With Liberty and Ska for All

By on February 10, 2015

 

Roger Lima (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

Roger Lima (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

“What exactly is ska?” I wondered as I researched for this Tuesday’s show several weeks ago. Two big-time groups, Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake, were getting some serious billing for their show at Downtown Disney. Less Than Jake was even streaming the show live on Yahoo.

I’d always assumed that ska groups were like the pop punk acts that rose with them in the 1990s – only with a horn thrown in for dramatic effect. As the crowd poured in to the House of Blues on Tuesday, I would soon learn how much ska meant to the people of Florida. What followed was a wild night of circle pits, dancing trombonists, and funny hats.

The first act on the docket was Authority Zero. This punk-leaning skater band from Arizona brought a ton of energy to the stage. Their frontman Jason DeVore jumped around the stage like the place was a small town bar in 1995, bringing the surprisingly dense crowd with him back in time.

Jason DeVore 4

Jason DeVore (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

Authority Zero opened their eight-song set with “No Other Place,” a track from their 2013 album, The Tipping Point. The dynamic, raspy vocals were there in spirit ­– though, not totally intelligible. Guitarist, Brandon Landelius, and drummer, Sean Sellers, rattled the House of Blues with their slamming riffs and up-tempo beats.

Brandon Landelius

Brandon Landelius (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

DeVore wildly whipped his microphone around, sending the cable whizzing past the photographers in the pit. DeVore’s vocals would take center stage in the next track, as the simple and rhythmic cadence of “Undivided.”

The rest of their set brought audience-involving chants (“NO REGRETS”), moshing (“LIBERATEDEDUCATION”), and a chorus of screaming Arizonans (“SIRENS”).

Jason DeVore

Jason DeVore (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

That’s when the Authority Zero took the intensity to a whole new level.

“Revolution,” the group’s most popular single kicked off the back end of their set. This move came at the perfect time to energize the maximum amount of people, as the place was nearly full.

If you were expecting an Irish folk song next – you nailed it. Authority Zero vaulted into their rendition of “Rattlin’ Bog,” a bare-bones chant that increased in speed with every verse. Imagine a Punk/Irish version of “There’s Hole in the Bottom of the Sea,” and you won’t be far off.

Brandon Landelius and Jason Devore

Brandon Landelius and Jason Devore (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

The hypnotic tongue-twister brought cheers from the crowd as they looked on in amazement. Every act strives to do something unique, and this will cement Authority Zero into the minds of nearly everyone in audience. Be it as a technical marvel or “that thing the first band did with the gibberish,” Authority Zero’s performance will be hard to forget.

After an encore performance of “Lift One Up,” that left things on an inspirational note – Authority Zero took their banner, a few new fans, and called it a night in Lake Buena Vista.

The anticipation of the crowd and the tension of the crew could be felt in the air as the clock ticked on. Three different security guys came up to the photographers and told us to be careful – “They’re streaming this live,” one said, “it’ll be bad for everyone if you guys trip on those cables in the pit. Just watch for the cameraman and you should be good.”

Buddy Schaub Butt

Buddy Schaub (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

Less Than Jake took the stage in a flurry of smiles and smoke machines; they would be the band that really showed the crowd what a ska party was like. In the opening song “Look What Happened,” audience members would get to know the antics of vocalist, Chris DeMakes, and trombonist, Buddy Schaub, early.

DeMakes and Schaub, as well as saxophonist “JR” Wasilewski, drummer, Vinnie Fiorello, and bassist, Roger Lima, had a chemistry that can only come from a group of hometown friends, most of whom had been playing together since 1994. The former UF students played well with the Florida crowd (and gave flashbacks to this LSU fan) with Gator Chomps coming over the barricade during nearly every song.

In a move that would remain constant, fans went wild with nostalgia for the next song, “Nervous In the Alley.” The band danced around and played it up for the cameras.

Roger Lima 5

Roger Lima (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

During the third song, “The Ghosts of Me and You,” Buddy Schaub went crazy. Spliced in with high vocals, Buddy danced on top of the stage lights, trombone in hand. He then flipped around, pretended to moon the crowd and slapped himself on the butt. Less Than Jake showed that their horns were added not just as an accent, but were almost the central piece of the band.

Buddy Schaub 3

Buddy Schaub (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

The fun continued during the next two songs “Good Enough,” and “How’s My Driving, Doug Hastings?” Band members encouraged the crowd to pick up security guys and let them crowd surf – which led to one levitating security guy/random crowd member fist bump. This was truly a moment for the ages.

Security Guard

(Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

Less Than Jake clearly stepped it up for the Orlando show, bringing props galore to the people of their home state. For “Automatic,” streamers of paper rained from the sky and cover the crowd.

LTJ Streamers 2

(Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

The next notable use of props came during “All My Friends Are Metalheads.” DeMakes called a fan up on the stage that “looked like he was auditioning out for a Gilligan’s Island reboot.” Clad in a Hawaiian shirt and a lime green fedora, the teenaged fan paraded around the stage, and danced with band members. After they took turns playing with his hat on, the set rolled on.

DeMakes Hat

(Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

Next was Less Than Jake’s most popular song, “The Science of Selling Out.” Selling out seems to be a real fear among the ska community, as both headliners have a hit about it. Fans from old to young swayed back and forth, many singing along. It was clear that no matter their commercial success, these Floridians have a special connection with their audience.

Confetti streamed down as the party continued with “Harvey Wallbanger.” Bright yellow Less Than Jake balloons flowed from the stage shortly after. The House of Blues radiated celebration and nearly everyone in the crowd left with some piece of the show as a trophy.

LTJ Balloon

After another barrage of paper streamers, the group of friends cascaded into a trio of thirty-second songs they’d written to change the pace of live shows. Among them was a commercial for Pac-Man Cereal off of their album of TV cover songs TV/EP. This very random collage played on both the nostalgia and the absolute absurdity of the show so far.

The mellow melodies “Give Me Something to Believe In,” “Five State Drive,” and “Plastic Cup Politics,” rounded out the set in regulation. As the lights dimmed, fans went crazy. With most of the hits played, and a healthy amount of stage tricks already out of the bag, the audience wondered what would be the encore.LTJ Crowd

First came “The Brightest Bulb Has Burned Out,” a ballad of early-twenties indecision. Less Than Jake is great at that – they’re able to put the listener in their shoes on a journey of relatable problems. “History of a Small Town” sent that message home. Covered in sweat, they told the classic story of small towns and broken hearts. Maybe Orlando is a little bigger than where they grew up, but even in this city of great shows, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Less Than Jake preached the message of love and positivity conquering sadness and mediocrity, and they were certainly a treat.

As the cameras, wires, and extra personnel exited the scene, there was a notable exhale among the staff. In the crowd, the well-lubricated concertgoers were becoming mellower as the night rolled on.

Dan Regan

Dan Regan (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

This tone change was perfect for Reel Big Fish, who addressed it directly at one point, “The cameras are gone, you guys can relax now!”

Reel Big Fish is at the other end of the spectrum that includes Authority Zero (skater punk) at one end, and Less Than Jake (Skater/ska/pop punk) in the middle. Their lyrics and styles gravitate toward original hipsters – with bright clothing, waxed mustaches, and California slang. The six-member band includes a horn section with John Christianson on the trumpet, Billy Kottage on the trombone, and Matt Appleton of Goldfinger on the sax.

Matt Appleton

Matt Appleton (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

Vocalist, Aaron Barrett, the only cast member that has been on board since 1995, took the stage to a ska rendition of “The Final Countdown,” which morphed into their tone-setting opener “Trendy.” Christianson waved his arms and swung his trumpet around like a sword to get the crowd into the song.

There next two songs played well with the late-night crowd. “I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend Too,” and “Everyone Else is an Asshole,” were delivered in a snarky, comedic tone.

Aaron Barrett 2

Aaron Barrett (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

After a break to play the upbeat instrumental groove, “241,” Reel Big continued their sarcastic tone with “Your Guts (I Hate Them).” Between songs, the band was comical, resembling real-world cartoon characters that all picked up instruments and drove a little way down I-4 after being banished from Disney World.

Next came another weird mash-up that had become a staple of the night – this time Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” leading into a hit off of their new Christmas album, “Skank for Christmas.” Skanking is a style of dance common to ska, as those unfamiliar with the genre would find out after sitting through a song they thought was dirty.

John Christianson

John Christianson (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

 

Then, the versatile band drifted into “My Life,” a cover of the “Forces of Evil,” song. They blended that with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” and Barrett cut the music to let the audience serenade him with the classic song.

If you thought you were going to hear two ska cereal commercials while at this show, you nailed it as well. You and the guy that guessed the Irish folk song should play the lottery. Reel Big Fish sped up the tempo with their 2002 Rice Crispies commercial. Theirs – unlike Less Than Jake’s – actually saw airtime.

John Christianson, Dan Regan

John Christianson, Dan Regan (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

The Californians kept that tempo with “I Know You Too Well to Like You Anymore.” Barrett ran from one end of the stage to the other, chasing band mates and playing behind his head.

An old school circle pit formed as Reel Big Fish played the anthem “In the Pit,” then melded to Sublime’s “Garden Grove,” to roaring support. Fans paid homage to the ska legends by singing nearly every word, then flew right back into mosh mentality as Reel Big returned to “In the Pit.”

LTJ Crowdsurfer

From there, the horns kicked into an upbeat ska version of the “Imperial March,” from Star Wars which then transitioned into “Where Have You Been?”

John Christianson Bra

John Christianson (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

They closed out the standard set with the hit “Sell Out,” (there it is again!) and had the House of Blues jumping. Structuring the set like this makes sense because it gives audience members something to be stoked about before the encore.

Reel Big Fish’s encore was the best of the night. They came back out on the stage chanting “olayolayolayolay”, turning the venue into an indoor soccer stadium for a minute – then broke into “Suburban Rhythm.”

“Suburban Rhythm,” is a simple song that has about 26,000 versions including faster, slower, hoedown, rasta, death metal. The lyrics stayed the same but band changed about everything else. They danced, formed a circle pit on stage, pretended to play other instruments, and put on a show for the faithful crowd.

Even their most popular song, “Beer,” wasn’t immune to some on-stage improvisation. The popular track was mixed with The Offspring’s “Self Esteem,” to the jubilation of the crowd. Many in the audience, even at midnight on a Tuesday after a four-hour show, knew every word to both songs and belted them out at max volume as the band had one final hurrah.

Derek Gibbs

Derek Gibbs (Photo: Will Ogburn RSEN)

Nostalgia was kicked up to level eleven for the final song of the night as Reel Big Fish’s cover of A-ha’s “Take On Me,” energized fans of all ages. The deep, almost ironic vocals of Barrett combined with the horns to make a unique version of the song that sounded more like an original than a cover. From inside, it sounded like people miles away could hear the crowd yelling “Taaaaakeonnnnmeeeeeee” at the top of their lungs.

It was a perfect ending to a night of music that had been anything but boring. Two cereal commercials, the Star Wars theme, a Van Morrison song, an Offspring song and an Irish folk melody later, ska had left its mark on the House of Blues.

 

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